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The Bottom Line Confusion Over Student Spending

Does anyone really know how much we spend on our public schools? A state-finance map on per-pupil spending from Education Week shows Washington State, where we are based, spends $11,125 per student, accounting for “factors such as teacher and staff salaries, classroom spending, and administration, but not construction or other capital spending.” Confusing!

The frustrating issue with this report is it creates controversies about which state “could” be spending more in comparison to other states, which does not matter as much as the actual spending figures importantly, the figure seems to only include the state revenue portion (of course, this is not highlighted in the report). What is missing is the significant portion of school funding from local levies, federal funding, and other funding revenues. The truth of the matter is these other sources add thousands of additional dollars per student.

According to Washington Policy Center’s Center for Education Director, Liv Finne, there is a much more transparent and clarifying report available. She recommends the Statewide Workload/Staffing/Finance report from the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program (LEAP is part of the Office of Financial Management), which can be found here: http://fiscal.wa.gov/K12.aspx. This resource is much more revealing, as it shows each revenue source. It is important to note that according to LEAP, the total expenditures in Washington State are actually significantly higher than the report from Education Week indicates, averaging a whopping $14,900 per pupil!

So if the state is under-reporting revenues by $3,775, it raises the question: “where does the money go?” The answer to that question is more important than how state education spending comparisons, which as Finne states, is “fallacious anyway, since every state has a different economy and set of conditions.”  

It’s time to focus on the real education spending numbers!

Bailey Takacs

Development Program Coordinator, American Center for Transforming Education
Bailey Takacs served as development program coordinator to Discovery Institutes' American Center for Transforming Education and Development team. Bailey has experiences which also include: campaign management and administrative roles with elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels of the government. He holds a B.A. in Politics and Government from Pacific Lutheran University.
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