Last week, when I posted a graph charting percentage of state revenues paid by county, versus percentage of state K-12 funding received, some commenters argued that this data was misleading, as it didn't take into account the number of school age children in each county. Well... the chart above does.
This new chart graphs state "Basic Education" funding per student (based on OSPI data), and once again you'll find King County near the bottom of the chart ($6,322), and the usual red counties near the top, with Lincoln County scoring almost twice as much state funding per student ($10,356) than bottom-ranked Skamania ($5,799). What's up with that?
And this represents Basic Education only... no special education or bilingual programs to skew the numbers. In general and on average, it just simply costs the state more to educate children in red counties than it does in the bluer parts of the state.
Why? Well, a quick glance at the OSPI data reveals the gross inefficiency of sustaining the many tiny school districts that dot Washington's rural landscape. When you combine all sources of funding—state, federal and local—it cost $46,202 per student in 2008-2009 to educate the nine children enrolled in Adams County's Benge School District, compared to only $11,839 per student in our state's largest district, Seattle.
And Benge is no outlier.
Altogether there are three districts with total revenues exceeding $40,000 per student, 16 exceeding $30,000 and 22 exceeding $25,000... and all of them have enrollments under 100 students. Not surprisingly, for almost all of these districts, the vast majority of their funding came from state and federal sources; for example the Evergreen district in Stevens County raised $44,594 per student to educate its seven enrolled children, but only $574 each through local taxes. And while it is far from a straight line, in general, the smaller a district is, the higher its per student cost to the state.
Now, I'm not posting this data to make an argument for school district consolidation (though when it comes to some small and mid-sized districts, I'm guessing there's a helluva strong argument to make). And I'm certainly not making either a moral or policy argument against our state's wealthier households shouldering a disproportionate share of the cost of providing state services. Furthermore, I value what rural Washingtonians produce, and truly want them to be able to sustain their communities and educate their children, while maintaining a comfortable standard of living.
But the fact is, many of these communities and the basic government services they require are simply not sustainable without substantive state and federal subsidies... subsidies that we cannot continue to maintain at adequate levels without support from our rural neighbors to raise the taxes necessary to pay for them.
So while experience tells me otherwise, my hope is that if red county voters understand their true self-interest, the might actually start voting it.
[UPDATE: Just to be clear, the chart above includes Basic Education dollars only, and does not include Levy Equalization. So the state subsidy to smaller districts is even greater.]