Despite What They Say, Public Schools Have Plenty of Funding

The Daily Signal by Liv Finne

Editor’s note: Jan. 23-29 is National School Choice Week. This article is part 5 of a 5-part series on commentaries about educational choice and people who work to make it accessible to American schoolchildren. 

Washington State residents will soon hear the familiar refrain, “Public schools require more money” as we close National School Choice Week 2022. 

Official reports, however, show that isn’t true.

In a world of online misinformation and fact-checking, it’s more important than ever for the public to get an accurate picture.

According to official figures, public schools in Washington receive unprecedented levels of funding despite having fewer students.

Citations to these official figures are provided by the Center for Education Reform of the Washington Policy Center’s new study “Public Education Spending: Where Does the Money Go? Trends in Teacher Salary and Benefits Costs in Washington Public Schools, 2015-2021.”

The current budget’s total annual school funding is $17.5 million, which is the largest ever. The average per-student funding of $16,800 is the highest and most expensive ever. This amount exceeds the tuition in private schools. On average, a modestly sized class of 25 students gets $420,000 per year. Schools have ample money to pay for learning services, even if the teacher is paid $120,000 per year in salary and benefits.

RELATED: More School Choice Needed As Teachers Unions Force More COVID-19 School Closings

About 83% of spending on public schools goes to benefits and salaries. Only 43% (or less than half) of all school employees actually teach.

Washington state lawmakers have increased K-12 school funding by billions of dollars through their recent budgets. Most of the money went to administrative and other programs.

Washington tax payers contributed 29% to the increase in compensation and benefits over the last six years from 2015-2021. Comparatively, the consumer inflation during this same time period increased by 18%. The average salary for a teacher in Washington is just below $90,000. There are $30,000 additional benefits such as health insurance, retirement and paid leave.

Washington state’s public schools were also granted $2.9 billion by federal taxpayers in the COVID-19 aid packages. National research shows that school officials only use 10% of the funds even though they claim the need was urgent in the midst of the pandemic.

However, the academic achievements of students is flattening or decreasing.  Nearly one fifth of students in public schools drop out after high school and there is a wider racial achievement gap.  

The debate over critical race theory is sparking renewed controversy, and some public figures actually say parents should not be involved in their children’s education at all.

Problem number two is the fact that many of the pledges made to support public education funding over the years are not being kept. This has led to 41,000 families leaving the system within the last year. A few have chosen charter schools in Washington, which is a fairly new phenomenon.

Public charter schools are a popular form of school choice delivering quality results, for about $3,000 less per year per student. Washington has 14 public charter schools, currently serving about 4,000 students—mostly from low-income, minority families. 

RELATED: Chicago Public Schools Receive $2.8 Billion While Kids Still Stay Home

However, while taxpayers are providing the greatest level of state funding in history to schools that have been assigned, powerful special interests like teachers unions limit the growth of charter schools.

Washington’s taxpayers have been generous with their funding for the public education system. This includes teacher benefits and salaries. The reported figures were based upon an annualized 12 month basis even though most teachers only work for a 10-month period.

The often repeated political argument that public education has been underfunded is clearly false.

These findings show that adding more money to the current public education system will not improve learning outcomes for students, reduce the high dropout rate, or close the long-standing achievement gap.

Instead, policymakers should focus on increasing learning alternatives and parental choice. State residents are increasingly open to school choice, but harmful ideas like critical racism seem not so popular. 

If Washington wants to make sure that all children in Washington have access to great education, state lawmakers need to focus more on student-centered innovation than increasing funding.

The Daily Signal permission granted permission for this syndicated article.