iTeam Investigation: West Virginia's education spending

    <p>Trying to determine just how much West Virginia spends each year on education can be a difficult chore. Various agencies provide different numbers and also break it down in a number of unique ways. (WCHS/WVAH){/p}

    Trying to determine just how much West Virginia spends each year on education can be a difficult chore. Various agencies provide different numbers and also break it down in a number of unique ways.

    From spending per student to a percentage of the total state budget, there are many methods available to spin how education dollars are allocated.

    With dozens of audits conducted each year examining how West Virginia's state agencies spend your money, it can be a daunting task for the average person to dig into the documents and understand all of the entries.

    With public education one of the biggest parts of the state's yearly budget, determining how much money is spent and where is a job probably best suited for a certified public accountant.

    “The total spent up through fiscal year 2017 was about $3.2 billion. $2 billion of that $3.2 billion would be general revenue but there's also again, over a billion dollars in property taxes and almost a half a billion dollars of federal monies that go out to all the counties, too,” Mike McKown with the West Virginia State Auditor’s Office said.

    West Virginia Auditor J.B. McCuskey is leading a charge for transparency concerning the state's finances. His office has created a report combining the audits of all 55 counties into one easy-to-read report, which breaks down West Virginia's education spending.

    “He wanted to try to just put things, simplify things for the average citizen out there who could just go to his website, the state auditor's website, look at this summary of the audits and again, it's a nice one-page quick glance for every county,” McKown said.

    McKown said even with a declining enrollment, the more than $3 billion spent on public education in fiscal year 2017 represented an increase.

    “We've dropped student population of 3 percent over that period. While expenses rose 13 percent, student population dropped 3 percent,” McKown said.

    McKown said exploring the state's spending on education over a nine-year period has been eye-opening. He said one trend is glaringly obvious in an era of rising costs and declining enrollment.

    “Superintendent salaries are in here. One thing that jumped out on me on that is over these eight or nine years that we did superintendent salaries statewide had grown 16 percent, the teachers in elementary schools, remember, superintendents grew 16 percent, the elementary school teachers grew less than 1 percent, their salaries,” McKown said.

    While McKown was collecting all of the county audits and putting them in one place, the amount of money each individual district has in the bank began getting his attention.

    “The total of those cash and investments were about $750 million of which the bulk of those were in cash and cash equivalent, which means a checking/savings account. And only about $160 million of those were invested. That jumped out at me. I would have thought more of the $750 million would have been invested,” McKown said.

    And McKown said with just a couple of exceptions, county school boards have a free hand in how they spend tax dollars.

    “Just because a line in the school-aid formula generates for example $50 million for current expense doesn't mean the county has to spend $50 million for current expense. It's all put into a big pot as long as you meet your requirements on personnel and hire the right amount and have the proper amount of classroom teachers. Counties have a lot of discretion on their spending,” McKown said.

    You can go to the state auditor’s website and look through the report on school spending, which covers the eight years between 2009 and 2017.

    McKown said the 2018 report should be ready in the next few weeks.

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