By Liv Finne for The Daily Signal

Editor’s note: January 23-29 is National School Choice Week. This is the final in a five-part commentary series exploring the successes and challenges of educational choice and the people who are fighting to make it available to all American school children.

As we wrap up National School Choice Week 2022, residents of Washington state are about to hear a familiar refrain: Public schools need more money.

Official reports, however, show that this is not true.

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

Official figures show public schools in Washington state are now receiving record levels of funding, even though the system has fewer students.

Quotations for these official figures are provided by the new study from the Center for Education Reform at the Washington Policy Center “Public spending on education: where does the money go? Trends in Teacher Salary and Benefit Costs in Washington Public Schools, 2015-2021. »

Total annual funding for schools in the current budget is $17.5 billion, the highest on record. Average funding per student is $16,800, the highest on record and higher than tuition at most private schools. A modest class size of 25 students receives an average of $420,000 per year. Even if the teacher receives $120,000 in salary and benefits, a level that is now typical, schools have plenty of money to fund learning services.

RELATED: More School Choice Needed as Teachers’ Unions Force More COVID-19 School Closures

Some 83% of public school spending goes to employee salaries and benefits. Less than half, or about 43%, of school employees are actual teachers.

In recent state budgets, Washington lawmakers have earmarked billions of dollars in increased funding for K-12 schools. Much of this sum went to administration and programs other than core academics.

Over the past six years, from 2015 to 2021, Washington taxpayers have granted a 29% increase in pay and benefits for school employees. By way of comparison, consumer inflation over the same period increased by 18%. The average salary for a teacher in Washington state is now just under $90,000 a year, with an additional $30,000 for health coverage, retirement, vacation pay and other benefits.

Additionally, public schools in Washington State received $2.9 billion from federal taxpayers through COVID-19 relief programs. Research shows that nationally, school officials have used only about 10% of these funds, even though headteachers have said the needs are urgent during the pandemic.

At the same time, students’ academic results are stable or declining. Nearly a fifth of public school students drop out before they finish high school, and the racial gap between students is wider than ever.

The critical race theory debate is sparking new controversy, and some public figures are actually saying that parents shouldn’t be involved in their children’s education at all.

A deeper problem is that the public sees that none of the many promises made over the years to garner political support for public education funding have come to fruition, and in the past year alone, some 41 000 families left the system. Some went to charter schools, a relatively new phenomenon in Washington state.

Public charter schools are a popular form of school choice deliver quality results about $3,000 less per year and 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 as Kids Stay Home

Unfortunately, just as taxpayers provide the highest level of funding to affected schools in state history, the growth of charter schools is limited by powerful special interests, such as teachers’ unions.

Washington taxpayers are generous in funding the public education system, especially teacher salaries and benefits. The figures reported here are on a 12 month annualized basis, although many teachers only work 10 months per year.

Clearly, the often made political assertion that public education is underfunded is simply not true.

These results show that adding more money to the current public education system will not improve learning results for studentsreduce the high dropout rate or close the achievement gap.

Instead, policymakers should focus on increasing learning alternatives and parental choice. School choice is increasingly popular among state residents, while harmful ideas such as critical race theory are obviously not.

State lawmakers should focus on student-centric innovations, not just increasing funding amounts, if they are to ensure that every child living in Washington state has access to a great education.

Syndicated with permission from The daily signal.