Washington State is not 44th in per pupil spending on education

February 12, 2009

A guest column in the Seattle Times today says, "We are 44th in total expenditures per student."  Ill-defined but impressing-sounding figures like this are often used by advocates to press for more education spending.  But the numbers are being manipulated to make it appear that taxpayers are not paying enough for our schools. 

According to the most recent data available from the U.S. Department of Education, Washington actually ranks 28th in per pupil expenditures, when capital costs are included, and 35th when only operating expenses are counted.  These figures are for 2004-05, and do not include the 28% increases in education spending the legislature enacted since then.  (Certainly these large increases in funding have not resulted in significant improvements to student learning in the meantime.)  The following facts give a true picture of education spending:   

  • Each year Washington spends more than $9,500 per student, more than at any time in state history, adjusted for inflation.

  • This amounts to $237,500 for a classroom of 25 students for a nine-month year.  Even if the teacher's salary were $100,000, all the rest would be available for administration and special programs.

  • As it is, less than 59 cents of every education dollar reaches the classroom.

  • Over 35 years, the number of students grew 25%, while the number of public school employees grew 77%.

  • The majority of public education employees are not classroom teachers.

  • Public schools may not hire just any qualified person to teach.  Only people holding a state-approved certificate are allowed.  None of the 5,000 people being laid off at Microsoft can teach in a public school, although private schools will be able to hire these talented individuals. 

  • Less than 36% of 8th graders have achieved grade-level proficiency in math and reading on the NAEP, the national "gold-standard" for assessing student achievement.

  • About one-third of public high school students fails to graduate from high school.

  • Over half (52 percent) of students entering community or technical colleges have to take remedial math, English or reading courses to catch up.  37 percent of stduents entering our two-year and four-year collegs must take remedial math or English courses. 

Taxpayers are providing public school administrators with ample funding--over $9 billion a year to educate one million students. 

President Obama has announced a new era of responsibility.  Our public schools are failing to  prepare our students for college and the workplace.  Responsibility and results, not endless requests for more money, is exactly what taxpayers, parents and students have a right to expect from the folks who run our public schools.




re: Washington State is not 44th in per pupil spending on educa

It's also interesting to look at the states that ARE at the bottom in per-pupil spending, and which are on top. Most people don't think of Utah as having the worst school system in the country, even though per-pupil spending is half Washington's.

re: Washington State is not 44th in per pupil spending on educa

There is no correlation between per pupil spending and student achievement.
Florida is also at the low end of per-pupil spending, but Jeb Bush's reforms increasing parent choice, grading schools, standing by their statewide assessment tests, improving curricula, and eliminating social promotion in grades K-3 in that state have dramatically improved outcomes for Hispanic and African-American children: http://ednews.org/articles/29537/1/An-Interview-with-Matthew-Ladner-Demo...

On the 4th grade NAEP test in 2007, Hispanic children in Florida outscored state averages for all students from a dozen other states.

re: Washington State is not 44th in per pupil spending on educa

Unfortunately, in this economic client, many talented teachers will be out of jobs next year, along with those Microsoft employees. Yes, public school teachers need a state certificate, but that doesn't guarantee a job. Also, yes, all those "talented" individuals from Microsoft will be able to teach in private schools, but just because you work for Microsoft, doesn't mean you can teach. Teachers are blamed when children don't score well, but we are ignoring one even bigger influence-family. Even in the "best" schools teachers deal with families that don't/can't support their children's education, so they leave it up to the schools. Educating children shouldn't an us or them issue, it shouldn't about funding or test scores. Education should be a public partnership to support our future, our children.

re: Washington State is not 44th in per pupil spending on educa

I agree that family is a key to helping students focus and succeed in obtaining an education. But many students with good families are being shortchanged by our public schools. Look again at the remediation numbers I provided in the blog.

As for your comment about Microsoft employees, I also agree that some of them may not be able to teach. But there are a lot of credentialed teachers who are not able to teach either, and they have jobs teaching kids. We need to shift from a system which is requires schools to hire teachers holding paper credentials to a system which evaluates the performance of teachers in the classroom based on how effective they are at increasing student learning.

Private schools are allowed to train Microsoft employees and give them a chance to learn how to teach. They may fail at teaching, but they may succeed. Public schools cannot even give a Microsoft employee a chance to prove him or herself in the classroom. Private schools can dismiss those Microsoft employees who turn out to be unable to teach. Public schools have to retain teachers with a credential who are not able to teach (a credential is no guarantee of success at teaching) once tenure kicks in after two years of teaching.

This is no way to place an effective teacher in every classroom, the single most important factor for a student's learning.

How do we improve our schools? We give our principals the tools they need to place, support and retain effective teachers for every classroom, whether or not they hold a teaching credential. In this way, we can improve the quality of our teachers across the board.

re: Washington State is not 44th in per pupil spending on educa

Hold the applause about Florida's grade 4 Hispanic students. Instead, google Walter Haney, Florida, NAEP , and retention. Then read how Florida's grade 3 retention policy removes a giant number of low scores from the sample of fourth graders. Isn't it just math in action that would make a mean rise due to the absence of low scores in the sample? Math is not synonymous with instructional improvement in any dictionary I use. Reading FCAT scores for HIspanic tenth graders in 2008 show 70% in the lowest s of our 5 levels. Hold on tight and don;t get blown away by the spin!