(The Center Square) – Average per-student funding in Washington state is $18,175, according to new 2021-2022 school year budget numbers from fiscal.wa.gov, the state’s revenue and expenditure data website. That compares to the national average of $14,418 per pupil to fund K-12 education, according to Education Data Initiative statistics from last year.
Critics say the higher spending isn’t producing the desired return on investment. Last year’s student testing showed broad declines in English and math from the last pre-COVID-19 tests taken in 2019.
Statewide assessments administered last fall and published earlier this year by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) showed 70% of students failed to meet the standard in math, while 52% of students failed to meet the standard in English.
That’s on top of an exodus of students from the public school system during the pandemic. Over the last two years, more than 41,000 families have pulled their children out of Washington’s public school system, according to a recent report by the Washington State Caseload Forecast Council.
OSPI did not respond to emails from The Center Square seeking comment.
Liv Finne, director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center, said last year’s test results show “we are not getting our money’s worth.”
She pointed to House Bill 1633, which stalled out in committee during the recently adjourned 2022 legislative session, as part of the potential solution to the problem.
“That’s why we need to pass bills like HB 1633, introduced by Rep. James Walsh, which would give parents $10,000 of their education funding per child, to cover the costs of homeschooling and private school tuition,” she explained in an email to The Center Square. “Thirty-two states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico give parents access to school choice programs similar to HB 1633, programs which fund the education of students by giving their parents control over a portion of their education funding.”
In 2021, 621,700 students participated in one of 76 private school choice programs in those 32 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, according to the 2022 edition of EdChoice’s “The ABCs of School Choice” guide. EdChoice is an Indianapolis, Indiana-based education reform organization founded in 1996 by economist spouses Milton and Rose Friedman.
For all of the money being spent on students in the Evergreen State, the problem seems to be where the money isn’t going.
“A good short-hand is that in Washington state public schools, only 60 cents of every dollar reaches the classroom,” Finne pointed out, referring to more K-12 data from fiscal.wa.gov. “This is based on the accounting category Activity of ‘Teaching.’”
The situation is different in private schools, according to Finne.
“By comparison, private schools spend 80-90 cents of every dollar in the classroom on the Activity of Teaching,” she said.
It’s not all about the money, Finne acknowledged, but providing an offramp from the state’s basic education system.
“The best way to improve outcomes for students is to give them an exit from public education,” she said. “School choice. HB 1633 would have given families $10,000 per student to pay the costs of homeschooling and private school tuition.”