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WPU Confusion

Within public education finance, nothing is more misunderstood than the Weighted Pupil Unit, or WPU. An article in last Sunday’s Tribune provides an excellent example of how the WPU is routinely misunderstood by elected officials, reporters, education advocates, and the public.

'The [Minimum School Program’s] 'weighted-pupil unit' - $2,417 for fiscal year 2007 - represents one average child with no special needs. '

This is not correct. Others have stated that the WPU is the amount that state government spends in income tax per student, which is also incorrect since the WPU includes property taxes generated by the basic levy and excludes hundreds of millions of state income tax dollars in so-called below-the-line expenditures.

WPU accounts for less than 50% of per student expenditures
Despite the attention paid to the WPU, less than half of all public school expenditures including capital and debt service are accounted for in the WPU.

The following items – based on FY2008 appropriations -- are not included in the WPU.

Social Security, Medicare, and retirement: $333.3 million
Pupil transportation: $70.9 million
Teacher compensation increase (beyond steps and lanes): $68.7 million
Various block grants: $113.7 million

In total, about $1.2 billion Minimum School Program expenditures are excluded from the WPU. On top of that, there are local expenditures for capital and debt service.

In FY2008, WPU expenditures will be about $1.75 billion out of a total of $4.1 billion K-12 expenditures, or about 43% of the total.

Moreover, WPU is not a per student amount although there is a correlation between student enrollment and number of WPUs. Statewide, there are about 1.29 WPUs per student (based on anticipated enrollment of 540,190 as stated in the LFA's Appropriations Report). About 50% of the difference between the number of WPUs and the number of students is attributable to special education.

How much does Utah spend per student?
According to recently released Census Bureau figures for FY2005, Utah spent $5,257 per student which includes nutrition programs but excludes capital and debt service.

Utah Taxpayers Association calculated per student spending for FY2005 at $6,309 which includes capital and debt service. Excluding capital and debt service and including food service, the association calculates $5,300 per student, which is within 1% of the Census Bureau figure

For FY2008, the Utah Taxpayers Association estimates that Utah will spend about $7,500 per student, which includes capital, debt service, and nutrition programs. This includes state income tax, local property tax, and federal sources.

Excluding federal and local sources, the state will spend about $4,500 per student in income tax dollars for public education in FY2008.

How are you including 333 million for Social Security, Medicare, and retirement into your calculations?

Obviously teacher retirement should be included but it seems you are lumping together a bunch of costs to make a point. I would like to see how you are separating out only those costs that have a direct correlation to the teaching of our children.

I would be curious what block grants you are also including after seeing that.

We base our calculations on the annual financial reports for each school district and charter school. USOE provides this information in one massive xls file.

Districts and charter schools report SS/MC/retirement benefits under the following object codes

- 210 retirement
- 220 Social Security/Medicare
- 240 Insurance (health/dental)
- 200 other benefits

These benefits are reported in various function codes

- 1000 instruction
- 2100 student services
- 2200 instructional staff
- 2300 district administration
- 2400 school administration
- 2500 central (other district)
- 2600 oper/maintenance
- 2700 transportation
- 2900 other support

All school district costs except for non K-12 expenditures (Fund 23)have a "direct correlation to the teaching of our children". Fund 23 expenditures are not included in our total but we do list them separately in case anyone asks.

Some may consider non-instructional costs such as transportation as not have a "direct correlation" to teaching children, but schools will insist that they can't teach children unless these costs are covered. Besides, taxpayers pay for these costs and therefore these costs should be counted.

Block grants
Quality teaching - $73.9 million
Local discretionary - $21.8 million
Interventions for student success - $17.9 million

That 1.29 WPUs per student is currently used is very interesting. If a significant number of students opted to use vouchers (assuming both barrels of the public education shotgun--referendum and lawsuits--miss) that figure will go up. What I mean by that is it's hard to imagine that the amount of money allocated to public education will go down simply because a lot of people use vouchers instead.

Interestingly as well, I've noticed that voucher opponents are using a much smaller dollar figure per student educated than the one you are using. I trust your numbers, considering that they have a much greater conflict of interest than any (probably none) that you might have.


Voucher opponents generally use the number that excludes capital and debt service or, even worse, the WPU.

Additionally, the Legislature has modified the value of the WPU by moving 2000, the ratio of WPUs to students was about 1.4. A couple of years ago, the Legislature began moving expenditures below the line, and the ratio of WPUs to students decreased.

Now, Legislators are talking about moving items above the line again. If they do this, they will either increase the value of the WPU or increase the number of WPUs, or both.

Voucher opponents don't include capital and debt service because those are fixed costs that aren't going to change much if a few empty seats are opened up because of vouchers.


Nice try, but the FIXED cost argument is the very first anti-voucher we refuted many years ago. There are ZERO fixed costs with schools that have not yet been built. By diverting a portion of enrollment growth from growing school districts, those districts can build fewer and/or smaller schools than they otherwise would have.


If you are going to use the invalid fixed cost argument, then you will have to oppose charter schools as well since they "drain" students and resources from existing districts schools.

While you're at it, how are you going to stop growing districts from diverting funds from declining enrollment districts?

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