September 05, 2006
Spend more on education?

It's easy to have an opinion. It takes a little more work to have an informed opinion.

A recent survey of 400 registered voters in Washington shows that almost everyone has opinions about whether or not the state is spending enough on its K-12 public schools, but almost nobody knows how much is actually being spent. ...

Sixty percent of those asked felt public schools were under-funded . . . until they found out how much is being spent. Our state spends an average of more than $10,000 per pupil annually, but only 12 percent of respondents came within $2,000 of knowing that number. When asked if $10,000 per pupil each year seemed too high, too low, or just about right, 61 percent said it seemed either too high or just about right.

Responsible citizenship, especially on matters relating to the education of our children, requires more than simply having opinions and going to the polls on voting day. But even the most responsible citizens will have trouble finding the facts about K-12 public education spending in our state.

This is because the average person gets information about schools from a newspaper, and our state's large newspapers aren't reporting specifics when it comes to total education spending.

A recent analysis by the Evergreen Freedom Foundation discovered that out of a total of 489 education-related articles published in one year in three large regional newspapers (216 in the Seattle Times, 119 in the Columbian and 154 in the Spokesman-Review), not one mentioned the state's average total per-pupil spending (or total spending, period) for K-12 schools. Only twelve articles mentioned specific portions of school funding.

Meanwhile, calls for more money from officials and staff within the state's K-12 public school system are perpetual and loud. Members of the Washington Learns initiative (chaired by the governor) are likely going to recommend an education spending increase. The Washington Education Association (state teachers' union) is threatening to sue if the Committee doesn't recommend a big enough increase.

Are they right? Do our schools need more money?

Here are some basic facts and questions to help you decide.

First, Washington spent an average of $10,121 per student in 2004-05 (the most recent year for which data is available -- see Table Eight in the link). That includes money from federal, state and local funds. It is the total cost to taxpayers for our K-12 public schools (from instructing students to building classrooms).

Second, average per-pupil spending increased an inflation adjusted 20 percent over the past ten years (1995-2005, based on IPD). Thus, the state is spending 20 percent more per pupil today than it spent ten years ago.

Third, answering the question of whether $10,121 is enough requires knowing the answers to other important questions, such as: Do we know the results we want from our public schools? Are dollars being spent in the most efficient and effective way possible to achieve those results?

In 2002, when former Governor Gary Locke asked state agencies to prioritize their spending and identify clear outcomes, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson refused to participate. In the most recent budget, Bergeson has just one "expected result" for annual expenditures that total $8.5 billion: "Develop and implement an improved K-12 education funding model, in partnership with the Legislature, school districts, and other education partners."

That might be an acceptable priority if our public schools existed to spend money, but most people would say they exist to educate students.

Right now the majority of students in every grade tested fail at least one core subject. One out of three students fails to graduate from high school on time. More than half of those who do earn a diploma and go on to a community college must take remedial courses in the basics. Many of our best teachers and administrators are deeply frustrated and discouraged.

Is it possible we can do better?

We think so.

Imagine what we could achieve if we thought of public education as a goal (an educated public) rather than a particular kind of delivery system (state-operated schools). Imagine what $10,121 could buy if parents were allowed to spend it on the diverse educational options that best met the needs of each of their children.

These ideas are worth discussing, but first citizens must have access to comprehensive and unbiased facts. Only then will our discussion have substance. Only then will we begin to solve problems and expand opportunities.

Posted by Marsha Michaelis at September 05, 2006 03:57 PM | Email This
Comments
1. It's about $12K per year for a student to attend the best private school in the Tacoma area. I agree, it would be much better if private individuals had a say on how their education dollar was spent.

Democrats and Progressives in this state will fight this to the death though as an indoctraination mechanism for our youth and support of teachers unions are key planks of their platforms.

Posted by: Jeff B. on September 5, 2006 04:40 PM
2. I think you're absolutely right Jeff.

I notice there are positions at even the elementary level that didn't exist when I was in school, such as "school psychologist" and "family advocate". These positions are no doubt needed these days after nearly forty years of family-destroying liberalism.

I knew that the student spending was around $10,000 per student per year. I also know that even if it was $50,000 liberals would tell us that it wasn't enough.

I'd love to see Republicans push harder for vouchers. I think the Dems are very vulnerable on this issue.

Posted by: Bill Cruchon on September 5, 2006 05:00 PM
3. It would be helpful when taking a survey of public opinion on school funding to make a clear distinction between state and local funding. When asked if the state provides too little, many people may say "yes" simply because they are aware of the local impact on property taxes to supplement what the state provides. This doesn't mean they believe aggregate school funding is insufficient. It means they would prefer that the state's share of that total be greater than it now is.

Posted by: Micajah on September 5, 2006 05:41 PM
4. Micajah,

So they want to raise state spending and lower local? Because what I'm reading is that people know we are spending too much or the right amount on schools. More money is not going to fix any problems with the schools. It actually is hurting it.

Posted by: Dengle on September 5, 2006 09:23 PM
5. You are absolutely right about the need for rational decision-making, clear objectives, and an understanding of the numbers. But this isn't some left-wing conspiracy to obfuscate the issues. The public is equally uninformed about the economy, the environment, foreign policy, etc. Most people just aren't interested in the details, and the media know it. Nonetheless I applaud you and those SP readers who are interested.

But then you forget all about logic in "imagining" that school vouchers would be an improvement. In fact, real-world data suggests they wouldn't, and vouchers create several obvious problems -- as well as benefits -- that have been well documented. You can't have a rational discussion if you're wearing ideological blinders.

Posted by: Bruce on September 5, 2006 09:42 PM
6. Vouchers are not a perfect solution but it would be a great step in the right direction of ending the public school monopoly. Quite frankly there are parents who don't care what their kids do at school so long as the cops aren't bringing the little darlings home. But for the rest of us trapped in the dismal system that passes for public education in this state, there needs to be alternatives.

Right now the major public school districts are failing (Seattle/Tacoma). The powers that be can doctor the WASL results all they want, but far too many young people are graduating with worthless scraps of paper. Money won't solve the problem. But what will get the attention of the administrative blockheads is the sound of dollars being siphoned off for vouchers or other alternatives. One reason the public schools don't trumpet the Running Start program is because a portion of the per student funding is diverted from the student's public school and to the community college.

We need true competition and vouchers would help. Any other suggestions as to alternative programs to the current public school system are welcome, but it has to be a true alternative, none of the this "smaller class size" or "higher teacher pay" tripe. (For those convinced the teachers are all living on food stamps, do a FOIA on teacher salaries in the district of your choice before flapping your gums about the "low salaries".)

Also, a school's performance needs to be advertised in big bold letters at least once a year and should be posted prominently on the school's home web page. People would probably feel very differently about a school where 2 out of 10 students meet standards compared to a school that has 8 out of 10 students meeting standards.


Posted by: Burdabee on September 5, 2006 11:57 PM
7. Third, answering the question of whether $10,121 is enough requires knowing the answers to other important questions, such as: Do we know the results we want from our public schools? Are dollars being spent in the most efficient and effective way possible to achieve those results?
***********************8

Indeed, what do we want, and is it efficient.

I think generally, we know what we want. I know, as a former school board member, that we do NOT spend it efficiently.

There is no accountability, no audit (effectively) and the interests of the parties, superintendents, teachers, administrators and board members are not aligned. I am so sick of the mo' money, mo' money mantra of the broad education establishment, and their resistance to effeciency and accountability. But, I am tired of pi**in' upwind.

The Geezer

Posted by: The Geezer on September 6, 2006 06:41 AM
8. Third, answering the question of whether $10,121 is enough requires knowing the answers to other important questions, such as: Do we know the results we want from our public schools? Are dollars being spent in the most efficient and effective way possible to achieve those results?
***********************8

Indeed, what do we want, and is it efficient.

I think generally, we know what we want. I know, as a former school board member, that we do NOT spend it efficiently.

There is no accountability, no audit (effectively) and the interests of the parties, superintendents, teachers, administrators and board members are not aligned. I am so sick of the mo' money, mo' money mantra of the broad education establishment, and their resistance to effeciency and accountability. But, I am tired of pi**in' upwind.

The Geezer

Posted by: The Geezer on September 6, 2006 06:42 AM
9. Bill at 2: you're so right--i also noticed tons of hangers-on like 'para-educators' etc etc; one-on-one special ed people; with those extra staff and other funds, unions still whine about their class sizes of, say, 19;

my kid-era class (private religious school) was 30-35 & run on a shoestring; AND, we didn't bring 2,000 extra pencils & supplies for deadbeat parents and illegal aliens; lastly--eveyone ASSIMILATED--even other faiths--no special treatment, translators, special meals and hind-kissing for other ethnic or religious groups; if you wanted something, YOU provided it or did without; there was ONE set of rules;

Marsha--i love your work and analyses--(however, they do no good for my 'taxpayer blood pressure!') but keep up the battle--thanks!

Posted by: Jimmie-howya-doin on September 6, 2006 06:44 AM
10. Just think what you could accomplish with that kind of money to educate kids. 25 kids X $10,000 = $250,000!!!! That's just for one year and I don't think it includes building costs.

Posted by: ronin on September 6, 2006 07:51 AM
11. The news this morning reported that a full 25% of Seattle school aged children don't attend Seattle schools, favoring instead private or out of district solutions.

I find it cruelly funny that Seattle can take in the funds (and there's never enough!), but it can't even manage 3/4's of its population!

Posted by: alphabet soup on September 6, 2006 08:27 AM
12. Went to a middle school orientation. I was shocked to see Arabic, Spanish and Russian translators there.

And our group of parents had one child accompany the mother and translate for the mom.

We need to provide more incentive for the parents to learn English. Make them sink or swim and I bet they choose to swim.

Posted by: swatter on September 6, 2006 08:49 AM
13. Thanks for a great post. Could you update it with some links to the data you used. I'd be really interested in a breakdown of federal vs state vs local funding.

Posted by: Steven on September 6, 2006 08:52 AM
14. Re: #6 above: To find out how much different school districts spend, and how much individual teachers are paid in salary and benefits, go to Evergreen Freedom Foundation's website at http://www.effwa.org . Choose the drop-down menu near the top that says ISSUES and click on Education. Scroll down a little to the sections that say, "Facts at Your Fingertips" and "Teacher Salaries".

Posted by: ken on September 6, 2006 09:00 AM
15. You know, I've seen this kind of post before and it really begs the question of why aren't you comparing that $10K to what it is costing in all the other states? Most of our children attend public schools, as do most children in the other states. Is that $10K per student spending (state, federal, and local totals) just putting us in the middle of the list of 50 states? Is it your aspiration that this state rank near the bottom, maybe alongside Mississippi?

Education is supposed to be this state's first responsibility. Compare how spending on the public schools has plummeted as a percent of this state's budget the last 25 years or so.

The problem in this state is that too large of a portion of any state increases in spending has been disportionately given as salary increases or benefit increases to the WEA teacher's union. Our schools can't choose to reduce class size or spend more money on tutoring and the like because all that money has been earmarked to go directly to the teachers. They have been controlling the legislature since '84 and it's plain to see the results, this state is middle of the pack in per-student spending, near the bottom in class-sizes, and right near the top in salary/benefit costs for it's teachers.

While I think the Evergreen Freedom Foundation generally does a good job, on this issue of public schools I think they should change their approach a bit and advocate at the legislature to put more of the education funds in the hands of the school districts and less of it as restricted pass-through money directed towards the teachers.

Posted by: Doug on September 6, 2006 09:10 AM
16. From the post:

When asked if $10,000 per pupil each year seemed too high, too low, or just about right, 61 percent said it seemed either too high or just about right.

Marsha; If 61 percent said it seemed either too high or just about right, then that means 39 percent said it was too low. So then, what percent said it was too high, what percent said just about right. I'm just curious as it is so easy to manipulate survey results in this overtly political way.

For example, maybe only 20 percent said it was too high and 41 percent just about right. You could have chosen to say that 80 percent said the amount we spend is either too low or just about right thereby showing that people truly are worried that maybe we should be spending more!

Posted by: Doug on September 6, 2006 09:19 AM
17. Steven: Great suggestion about putting links to data in the post. I did that.

Ken: Thanks for posting the information about teacher salaries.

Doug: 1. State rankings are interesting, but they're not important when it comes to the question of education funding. You could increase every state's per-pupil spending by $1 million tomorrow and our ranking would still be the same. The important thing is: How much does it cost to provide education to students in Washington?

2. Percentage of the state budget is also not that important. In 1981-83 the state spent slightly more than 50% ($3.9 billion) of the general fund budget on education; today (2005-07) it spends 42% ($10.9 billion). The teachers' union calls this "cut" appalling. As you can see, there is no cut and they are being appallingly deceitful. A smaller share of a much bigger pie translates into much higher education spending today.

3. To answer your question about the poll: The percentage of respondents who said $10,000 was "too high" was 38%. The percentage who said it was "about the right amount" was 23%. The percentage who said "too low" was 23%. And the percentage who weren't sure was 16%.

Posted by: Marsha Michaelis on September 6, 2006 09:45 AM
18. Steven: Great suggestion about putting links to data in the post. I did that.

Ken: Thanks for posting the information about teacher salaries.

Doug: 1. State rankings are interesting, but they're not important when it comes to the question of education funding. You could increase every state's per-pupil spending by $1 million tomorrow and our ranking would still be the same. The important thing is: How much does it cost to provide education to students in Washington?

2. Percentage of the state budget is also not that important. In 1981-83 the state spent slightly more than 50% ($3.9 billion) of the general fund budget on education; today (2005-07) it spends 42% ($10.9 billion). The teachers' union calls this "cut" appalling. As you can see, there is no cut and they are being appallingly deceitful. A smaller share of a much bigger pie translates into much higher education spending today.

3. To answer your question about the poll: The percentage of respondents who said $10,000 was "too high" was 38%. The percentage who said it was "about the right amount" was 23%. The percentage who said "too low" was 23%. And the percentage who weren't sure was 16%.

Posted by: Marsha Michaelis on September 6, 2006 09:45 AM
19. A couple of things here.

First of all my sister works for a private school. They educate each one of their kids for thousands less than public schools. It is a better education and they don't have the social problems that public schools do. No guns, no pedophiles. Just education by people and kids that want to be there.

I forget the exact percentage BUT a great majority (itís crazy like 60% or something) of Seattle schoolteachers have their kids enrolled in private schools. That should tell you something.

Although the teacher's union and other invested interests will tell you otherwise, a number of studies have been done that show no correlation between the money spent in public schools in any way relates to the quality of the education received.

In economics, any monopoly (which public schools are) reliably becomes bloated, expensive and unresponsive to the customers. Remember the joke about the old monopolist AT&T? "We don't care, we don't have to." And Iím old enough to remember what it was like. Same thing with public schools, same thing with government (Katrina anybody?).

One last important thing: If conservatives want to break the back of the liberal stranglehold on government and public policy, public school indoctrination must go. Public schools (and higher education for that matter) is where leftists fill little skulls of mush with their distorted, America hating, world view. The freedom of choice that vouchers represent must replace it. And when you get right to it, freedom of choice is more of an American ideal that a monopoly.

Posted by: G Jiggy on September 6, 2006 09:50 AM
20. Marsha,

I guess my main point is that when it comes down to what the problem with our state's public school is, state rankings do matter a whole lot as a barometer of what is going on.

If you did increase per-pupil spending by $1 million across the country the rankings would not be the same. In our state it is far more likely that a majority of that money would go to teacher benefits, retirement, or salary. Other states would spend more of it on construction, reducing class sizes, better technology, individual help for some of the lower performing kids, etc. Instead of number 4 on the teacher pay/benefit list, we would be number 1. On the class size list instead of being at number 42 we could be dead last.

Our premise here that adding money won't help, isn't exactly the right premise for us to be advocating. We should be advocating spending what money is necessary to spend but spending that money for the right things. If each elementary school had $500 more per student attending public schools, whether that is additional money or money that shouldn't have been given to the WEA, and were told they had to use that to reduce class sizes in math and reading to 10 kids or less, they could do it. But try to get the unions to agree to a few simple class assignment changes at the elementary levels, they'll do it if they can have all that extra money.

The districts need more power in dealing with the unions and they need the money being spent in Olympia to be used as the districts see fit and not as the unions see fit.

Our last negotiation fiasco gave the teachers money from our local levies in the amount of 3% of our positions. Then they had the audacity to complain when we had to rif that 3%. And we're the lucky ones, just look what Everett did. The legislature should start by putting their feet down and telling the unions that any pay increase must come from the state, then void any district contracts that circumvent that state requirement.

Posted by: Doug on September 6, 2006 11:16 AM
21. First, off, one can not compare private education to public education, directly. The main reason is private education doesn't have to provide education to the whole public. Private education can be more efficient by sizing their facilities, staff, and program to a given student population. Try having a private school fluctuate their program by 15-20% up or down per year.

Even if one had vouchers, there wouldn't be enough private schools for parents to send their schools to. You say more will be built. Fine, but this takes a few years. Who is to say the private industry will size its resources to match the communities population base? Who is to say the private school will not exclude less desirable parts of the community? They don't have to take the problem children. Should we just leave these children behind?

What I believe is that there is a great imbalance between the state and local communities. The state puts unfunded mandates on schools and expect them to absorb the costs. If you want to cut the cost of education, start by cutting the mandates that are attached with additional funding. There is no reason why a school has to run a special levy just to pay for basic expenses because the state doesn't provide all the necessary funding. Levies should go away and only Building related Bond programs should be locally voted on. The base tax rate should cover the basic education needs. Start with funding the schools and then with what is left over look at the state education staff. Too much money never sees it to the local school district.

The problem is conservatives only promote vouchers, not real education reform. Real education reform starts at the local school level and a zero budget, then builds up. The legislature should go back to ground zero. The Education department won't due it since they are protecting their turf.

Finally, we would have more money to spend on schools, if the Legislature would tack the Social and Health Services monster. This is where the real waste of resources in the state is going.

Posted by: tc on September 6, 2006 12:36 PM
22. Educational spending is a huge black hole down which taxpayers pour money. The lack of fiscal accountability, the lack of economic incentives, & the power of the teachers' union are the main problems in WA, with not enough money going into the classroom but getting siphoned into the realm of administration. I refuse to vote for any extra school money & will continue until there is significant change. One of the worst things the legislature did was to connect the estate tax to school funding. What a travesty! One has nothing to do with the other.

Posted by: Clean House on September 6, 2006 01:49 PM
23. tc,

I agree with you. Private schools seem to do better because they get to choose who they educate whereas public schools do not get that luxury.

On another note--Interesting article today on MSN about where the USA stands with teacher quality and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. http://encarta.msn.com/encnet/departments/elementary/?article=StatesFallShortonTeacherQuality>1=8603

Washington is one of seven states in danger of losing federal money because we have not met federal requirements. State and Federal unfunded mandates drains money from the local schools which in turn hinders the education of our children who then fail high stakes tests which then threatens to lose even more money for the school. A vicious circle that is getting us no where.

Posted by: ShannonC on September 6, 2006 02:32 PM
24. Marsha, is there a breakdown of per student spending by school district and the test results from those districts? Are the school districts that spend the most achieving the most? Any correlation at all?

Also, how many students were covered by the 1981 3.9 billion compared to today?

Don't want to be hog-tied by NCLB? Forsake Federal funding. Return local schools to local control using only state and local funding.

Don't like being held accountable for measurable results in the education of our children? Forsake Federal funding. Return local schools to local control using only state and local funding.

Get rid of all the hassle and interference of the Federal government and reduce your problems to hassle and interference from just state and local government.

Next, convince the residents of the state that they will need to make up the 5-10% of funding that comes in from the Federal government. Without the standardized testing and accountability, that should make it real easy to pass an new education levy.

/rant

Posted by: SouthernRoots on September 6, 2006 07:42 PM
25. I signed my middle school son up for online classes through BYU today (no, we are not LDS, but they seem to offer decent material). Although it is a fraction of what private school costs, it still was a chunk of change that kind of stung - especially with one kid in college and another soon to be. I would greatly appreciate a voucher system!

We have tried online public schooling, but it still feels like assembly line education (and there are some problems in the assembly line). At one point, you could choose which classes to take, but now full enrollment is required. I can understand why, from the school's point of view, this is necessary. The same restrictions do not apply to the option we are currently considering.

If I had $10,000 to spend on one child (instead of the slightly less than $1,000 I am looking at spending this school year), I would be ecstatic! Do you realize that if I still spent the $1,000 and put the remainder away in a mutual fund, he would be set for college and beyond? There is just so much unnecessary overhead and waste. For example, today I realized how much money could be saved if schools took a more "paperless" approach - kind of like banks. I don't see any reason class schedules can't be emailed to most students, rather than printed by the school.

Posted by: Peggy U on September 6, 2006 10:13 PM
26. SouthernRoots: Here's a link to a nice chart that shows per-pupil spending by school district. The data is organized by county/district and includes the last four years as well as the four-year average.

http://www.k12.wa.us/safs/PUB/FIN/0405/0405%20pdf%20reports/SDAllFndc.pdf

The chart is published by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Posted by: Marsha Michaelis on September 7, 2006 08:03 AM
27. Thanks Marsha. This led to other reports which are interesting.

Posted by: SouthernRoots on September 7, 2006 10:24 AM
28. I think the reason that the average spending per pupil isn't much reported is because it isn't a particularly meaningful number. A few very expensive students can skew the results. In a diverse urban district such as Seattle there are a number of special education students who cost $30,000 and more to educate - and they don't end up all that educated.

Review the statistics from the EFF and you will note that 10.3% of the total education expenditures go to special education. Federal law requires Districts to serve these students. Federal law also dictates the 9.2% of education dollars the EFF attributed to compensatory ed (for students from low-income households). I didn't see an amount for bilingual education, but it should probably have been broken out as well.

The $10,103 average expenditure per student amount includes 12.1% - $1,222.46 - for capital (buildings and construction) and 8.3% - $838.55 - for debt service (also buildings and construction), as well as money for transportation $414.22, ASB fees $121.24, school lunches $353.60, and more. All of these amounts would not be included in private school tuition, but would be in addition to it.

If you want a more meaningful number than statewide averages, consider the amount that follows a typical, general education student to school - this would be comparable to the amounts that are spent on private school tuitions. That amount, the basic instruction amount, is more like $5,375 per year. Now take that number around and ask people your Goldilocks question: too much, too little, or just about right?

Public schools have to contend with a lot of stuff that private schools don't have to contend with. If we are going to make any sort of fair comparison, then special education, bilingual education, and compensatory education costs have to be removed from the public school side of the equation. Moreover, when measuring effectiveness, those students should be removed from the WASL pass rates.

I think that when we make an apples to apples comparison it will become clear that public schools provide a tremendous value - educating healthy, native English speaking, middle class students as well or better than private schools for a fraction of the cost.

That said, public schools don't do a very good job educating students with disabilities, don't do a good job educating students with behavior problems, don't do a good job educating students from low-income households, don't do a good job educating English language learners, and don't do a good job educating unmotivated students. Of course, most private schools don't even TRY to educate these students, so no meaningful comparison is possible. What should it cost to educate these students and what outcomes should we expect?

Posted by: Charlie Mas on September 7, 2006 03:14 PM
29. ok Mas--if you are correct, and I think you make some good points,

do we throw MORE money at doing "comparable studies" (enriching only consultants), do we throw MORE money at the same problem, throw our hands up and say "frikkit" or what? maybe we roll up our sleeves and try something--anything--different than the (failing) status quo; like vouchers, charter schools, home study or whatever; or redouble or efforts at the non-conventional things;

Posted by: jimmie-howya-doin on September 7, 2006 08:29 PM
30. Mas, how well do you think the public schools do with accelerated students? Unfortunately, I know kids who have been held behind for no other reason than their chronological age.

Posted by: Peggy U on September 7, 2006 08:41 PM
Post a comment
Name:


Email Address:


URL:


Comments:


Remember info?