There is a national organization called NCES – National Center for Education Statistics (https://nces.ed.gov) that tracks education data across the United States. They have a recommended method for identifying the true cost of K-12 education…and the State of Washington (OSPI) does NOT conform to that recommended standard.
Specifically, NCES says there are four (4) cost factors in determining what the true cost of educating a student in public schools is:
State contributions to a school district
Local levy funds
Local capital bonds
Debt service costs
Washington State (OSPI) only includes state contributions and local levies. They ignore capital bond and debt as factors in the true cost of educating a student. Does that make a difference? Yes! In some in depth investigative reporting Jeff Heckathorn, at his website: http://www.schooldataproject.com/ , has gathered together incredible data. He has exposed the understatement of the true amount of money spent per student in Washington State.
He presents the data in table and graphical form. You can go to any of his charts and choose one or more counties across the state and then look at the spending information by school district in each county. This allows you to see how your local district compares to others. For the first time ever you can see the differences between school districts.
In today’s article we share a snapshot of some of the data for your consideration:
WA school districts and the agency charged with their oversight (the OSPI) are all under-reporting per pupil expenditures since they exclude capital outlays and interest on debt (bonds). They also fail to clearly disclose those exclusions. This misleads the public on just how much of their tax dollars are spent on public schools.
Instead of the reported $14,400 per student expenditures on average across the state for 2019-2020, the total actual per pupil expenditures in WA are around $18,200. This means that public schools costs are higher than the tuition and fees for most private schools. So an additional 26% is being spent per student than OSPI claims. That’s up from 18% just 7 years ago. So capital outlays and interest for bonds are consuming an increasing, significant share of the total actual K-12 school expenses.
Total per pupil expenditures are up 59% in 7 years. That is 5 times the overall inflation as measured by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (CPI-U). This is mostly paid for with escalating property taxes from tapped out homeowners and renters (in their rent).
Public charter schools, such as Rainier Prep in Burien, are prohibited from collecting any money from school levies or school bonds. They are forced to do with much less funding even though they have much higher percentages of low income students and much higher percentages of students of color than traditional public schools. And charter school students are performing quite well on state exams – English Language Arts and Mathematics.
The NCES per pupil expenditures specifically includes capital outlay and interest on debt. The OSPI has the data to use this more accurate PPE. In fact, the OSPI annually reports this better PPE to the US Department of Education. The numbers to run the calculation are clearly listed in the annual F196 budget reports for each school district from the OSPI.
You can see interactive charts on this data at: http://www.schooldataproject.com/report_expenditures
A quick look at Southwest Washington State shows that the TRUE PPE ranges from $13,835 to $21,354. The major differences? Capital bonds. A number of districts have convinced property owners to approve massive bonds (some approaching $1 billion). When you factor debt service and the bond into a declining student population base the numbers climb higher.
Is Jeff’s data odd or an attempt to use statistics to manipulate information? No. Here is a page from Edunomics which looks at the data from a different perspective but shows similar numbers: https://edunomicslab.org/washington/
If you want to look at specific details for school districts across WA State take a look at this website. We’ve chosen the Battle Ground School District for this example but you can choose any one you want: https://nces.ed.gov/Programs/Edge/ACSDashboard/5300380
Why does OSPI and school districts only report part of the TRUE costs of expenditures? Perhaps so that when they compare Washington State to other states (that do include all 4 of the cost factors) it makes it look like WA State spends less and thus needs more money?
Take the time to look at the cost charts. It’s stunning how much we are spending. It’s clear that parents could send their children to private schools for a fraction of what public schools cost. Does a voucher system make more sense when you look at this data?
What say you?