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.