Washington ranks 30th in total school spending per pupil in 2011

Per-Pupil expenditures 1992-2011 not adjusted for inflation

Per-Pupil expenditures 1992-2011 not adjusted for inflation

Dick Davis at the The Washington Research Council posted about new Census data recently released on school funding.

Washington ranks 30th in total school spending per pupil in 2011

new report from the U.S. Census provides a wealth of data on public school spending. (Links to all the data can be found here.)

A look at state revenues and spending per pupil can be found in this spreadsheet, Table 11 from the report. It shows that Washington spent $9,483 per pupil, ranking the state 30th, slightly below the U.S. average of $10,560.The table also shows that Washington ranks 30th in total revenues per pupil, $11,329. And, as we noted in our comparative analysis of education funding, we rank relatively high in state spending, No. 15, and lower in local funding, No. 36. (Read entire article here...)

The census data is the raw data on school funding. Typically it’s more interesting to look at some nuanced analysis. For example, the costs of hiring professional staff (teachers) varies by state, with highly urban states having higher costs not just for teachers, but for all college-educated workers, so the same dollar buys less education. This kind of analysis will come in over time.

Dick makes a couple of interesting points that are worth thinking (and talking) about:

  1. Washington ranks high in state spending and low in local spending compared to other states.
  2. Many states are dealing with increasing costs of paying off underfunded pension systems.

Washington ranks high in state support because our constitution requires us to do so. The Supreme Court pointed this out quite painfully in the McCleary decision. Depending on local resources for basic education makes it difficult for taxpayers in low-property value areas of the state to give their children a comparable education to those in more affluent areas, a problem that plagues states that mostly depend on local revenue.

Dick is correct to be concerned about the rising costs of paying for unfunded retirement system liabilities. Washington is also in good shape here compared to many states, but these costs are increasing as we pay for decisions made in the 1970s. It’s important to recognize that these costs are real and must be paid, but that they do not increase educational outcomes for children today. (Essentially we’re paying for educational costs incurred 20-30-40 years ago that should have been paid then but were not.) Ensuring that we adequately fund BOTH the actual educational needs of our children and the constitutionally required costs of paying for decisions made 40 years ago is the task in front of the Legislature today.

About the Author

I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.