From a funding perspective, the Supreme Court has stressed that the constitution sets the bar in Washington State very high in its requirement for ample school funding. The constitution is also clear that providing that funding is the state’s paramount duty. Within that context, the recent report, Is School Funding Fair, by the Education Law Center (ELC) is of particular interest.
One of the measures used in that report is a funding effort index. It compares each state’s combined local and state education spending in relation to its economic capacity. On that index, Washington receives an F grade, and we have received an F on every previous report by the ELC since 2007. In 2012, the year used for the current report, Washington’s Per Capita GDP ranks 10th in the nation while we rank 39th in the funding effort index
Given that low level of funding effort, Washington’s low ranking in the following areas shouldn’t come as any surprise. According to the report Washington is:
47th in pupil-to-teacher ratio.
44th in teacher wage competitiveness for entry-level teachers.
39th in teacher wage competitiveness for mid-career teachers.
45th in the percent of low income children enrolled in preschool.
44th in the ratio of low to non-low income children enrolled in preschool.
Even if our constitution only required sufficient funding, this information would indicate that we’ve missed the mark. Given the higher bar that ample funding calls for, we are clearly a long way from meeting that constitutional standard.
The other recent report is important in light of the preoccupation some legislators seem to have with reforming our schools as a precursor to providing ample funding. The US Chamber of Commerce recently released its 2015 edition of the Leaders and Laggards report which compares states on several measures of K-12 educational effectiveness.
In that report Washington earns an A grade for both Academic Achievement and Academic Achievement of Low Income and Minority Students. These ratings include scores on the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and improvement on the NAEP since 2005. In addition to those A grades related to achievement, Washington also received an A for Return on Investment (ROI). That index measures the cost effectiveness of state education systems. In that ROI category, ten states were given an A grade, but Washington was tied with Colorado with the highest ROI index.
The Leaders and Laggards report includes a total of eleven separate ratings, with each translated into a letter grade from A to F. Converting those eleven grades into a GPA, the range among the 50 states runs from a low of 0.27 GPA to a high of 3.70 GPA. Washington is fourth overall in that ranking with a GPA of 3.57.
Taken together, these data paint a picture of remarkable achievement in Washington’s schools. In spite of some of the worst financial support in the nation, out teachers and administrators have achieved some of the highest outcomes with and on behalf of our students. That is not to say that there isn’t room for additional improvement. Washington’s educators won’t rest until all students reach their highest potential. More to the point, however, these two independent analyses lead one to the undeniable conclusion that the problem with Washington’s education system won’t be found in our classrooms, it’s in our halls of government.