While we’ve grown accustomed to a steady stream of negative news about K-12 education spending here in Washington (primarily because of the McCleary case), a new study from The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington D.C. think tank, offers some good news for a change. Since the Great Recession, Washington is outpacing all but two states in education spending increases. That’s important because returning to and now exceeding pre-recession levels in education spending marks a significant budget turning point for the state as it continues to fill in funding gaps leftover from the recession.
Here are some highlights from the study:
Washington among top three in per-student spending increases – Seattle Times education reporter John Higgins writes that according to the study, Washington’s per student funding is 16.5 percent higher this school year than it was in 2008. That level places it among the top three in the nation for increases in per pupil spending during the economic recovery (only Alaska and North Dakota had bigger increases). When local levies are included, the combined amount of state and local investments was about three percent higher in 2014 than in 2008.
Unlike other states, in post-recession Washington, new revenue went primarily to education without raising taxes – When the economy started to recover, state budget writers made sure education investments, and in particular restoring cuts, were a priority. Not every state took this approach. From one of the study’s authors (Michael Leachman), as reported by John Higgins:
“Washington has taken the revenue growth that has resulted from the recovering economy and has focused on restoring some of the cuts that were made to schools,” said Michael Leachman, one of the report’s authors. “There hasn’t been a major [tax] increase like there was in Oregon or California and Minnesota and some other states.”
Directing new revenue to education also helped reverse a damaging thirty-year trend of non-education spending outpacing education spending in Washington by a nearly two-to-one margin.
Moving forward and looking back – although the study did not examine the 2015-17 budget, the most recent biennium state budget invests in education at levels far in excess of the pre-recession boom years. Specifically, by 2017 the state will invest over $9,000 per pupil; in 2008 that number was approximately $6,700. In fact, over the past four years, per pupil investments in Washington have increased by 33 percent. And when you include local and federal contributions, in 2017 per pupil spending will be almost $13,000 per student.
What does it all mean – Despite the steady drip of bad legal news on education spending, the state legislature’s post-recession budgets, and in particular those over the last four years, have reversed course and prioritized education spending. While more money isn’t the answer to everything in education, at bottom budgets reflect priorities. And since the recession, education investments have been a top priority in the Washington state budget.