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Press Release

Education spending: How much is enough?


A publication of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation.

May 18, 2004

Volume 14, Number 12

Contact: Marsha Richards, Education Reform Director
(360) 956-3482

The demand is loud and insistent: "More money for education!" It's become popular to publish studies calling for higher education spending, and voters will likely see a billion-dollar education tax initiative on November's ballot. The state teachers' union is even preparing to sue the legislature for more money. But do we really need to spend more money, or simply make better choices about what we buy with the dollars we already have?

While education spending in our state has risen steadily (at nearly three times the rate of inflation) for the past decade, overall student performance has fallen. Is it possible "more money" is not education's magic elixir? Is it possible the problems evident in schools today are the result of a system that is itself broken and outdated?

We shouldn't be afraid to take a hard look at the facts and answer these questions. We owe that to the children relying on our public schools for the opportunity to become independent and productive adults, and to the hard-working taxpayers sacrificing to provide that opportunity.

Here are some simple facts about education spending and performance from the most recent data available, which covers the 2002-03 school year.

1. Basic facts. 2,212 schools and 296 school districts in Washington state serve a student enrollment of 1,015,968. The state employs 59,810 certified teachers, 3,910 certified non-teaching staff (librarians, counselors, etc.), and 36,158 "other" full-time-equivalent (FTE) staff. This gives us a student/teacher ratio of 17 to one. The total FTE staff count is 99,878, providing a student/FTE staff ratio of 10.2 to one. And the total number of people working in the K-12 system (head count, including full-time and part-time) is 150,815, giving us a total student/all staff ratio of 6.7 to one.

2. Total spending. Washington spent $9,195,419,356 (all funds) on education in 2002-03. The state's general fund education spending increased almost three times faster than inflation over the last decade (1993-95 to 2003-05), up 31.9% in real dollars and 13.1% in inflation-adjusted dollars.

3. Teacher Salaries. Teachers in our state are paid primarily based on how long they've had their job, not on how well they do it. Unfortunately, the state's rigid salary structure (a gift from the teachers' union) means some excellent teachers are paid less than they're worth, while some poor teachers (who probably shouldn't be in the classroom at all) are paid more. The average teacher salary in Washington state is $45,265. Factoring in benefits and supplemental contracts puts the average total compensation at $61,620.

4. Spending per pupil. Figuring out how much Washington spends per pupil each year in K-12 schools is like trying to pick up a wet bar of soap. The numbers are elusive. The most recent data from OSPI say the state spends $9,454 per pupil. The most recent estimates from the National Education Association put the figure as high as $10,127. Even erring on the low side, are we ready to say we can't provide most children with a quality education for $9,454 a year?

5. Use of dollars. Less than half (42.5 percent) of the dollars spent on education are used for what the Superintendent of Public Instruction defines as "basic instruction". Are we certain the billions of dollars being used for other purposes are buying more value for students than would basic instruction in their classrooms?

6. Class sizes. Hundreds of studies have shown class size is not the most important factor in student achievement. Rather, it should be considered in context with the elements that do matter most: 1) strong leader-principals, 2) well-qualified teachers, 3) safe and orderly classrooms, 4) high academic standards, and 5) meaningful parental involvement. The legislature currently allocates money for a student/teacher ratio of 18.8 to one. Most teachers can tell you their class sizes are much larger than 18 or 19 students. Where does the money go when it reaches the district level?

7. Test scores. The percentages of students failing to score as "proficient" on the reading, writing and math portions of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning are alarming.

Students failing to pass WASL, 2002-03
Source: Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction

4th Grade
7th Grade
10th Grade




8. High school graduation rates. Depending on which numbers you look at, only 56 to 68 percent of the students who enter 9th grade in our state graduate from high school. At best, that means one in three never make it. Among minority students the dropout rates are even worse, with two out of three African-American students failing to graduate.

9. Students unprepared for college. Of the students who do graduate and move on to community college in our state, more than half must take remedial courses in reading, writing and math to prepare them for college-level work.

As the facts show, more money does not necessarily mean higher academic achievement. Instead of focusing on input (more money, more teachers), we should focus on output (student achievement, results). Discussions about money are only meaningful when we know what we must buy to best help students learn.

Sources: 1) Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI); 2) SPI; 3) Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program (LEAP); 4) OSPI and National Education Association; 5) OSPI; 6) House Appropriations Committee; 7) OSPI; 8) OSPI and Manhattan Institute; 9) OSPI.

Prepared by Marsha Richards, Education Reform Director
(360) 956-3482 or

* Nothing in this email should be construed as an attempt to aid or hinder the passage