Getting to the core of school funding in Washington State

What’s Happening?

Changes to the way schools are funded was implemented by the Washington State legislature in 2018, following the state Supreme Court ruling that Washington had not been meeting its paramount duty to fully fund basic education for decades.

While the new legislation resulted in an increase of state funding to education, the ability for districts to fund education locally was dramatically reduced, resulting in significant financial challenges for many school districts. Without additional legislative changes, district leaders are bracing for cuts to staff and programs in the coming years in order to maintain financial viability.

The new legislation also left big gaps in funding for special education, school counselors, nurses, and other critical services and has caused significant inequities among school districts (even neighboring school districts) across the state.

While the funding cap to local levies was raised from $1.50 to $2.50 in 2019, districts are still grappling with local funding limits and less undesignated funding for general operating expenses.

The Funding “Fix” is a Few Apples Short of a Barrel

Click on a barrel to learn why.

The Funding “Fix” is a Few Apples Short of a Barrel

Click on a barrel to learn why.

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While additional state money has been allocated to education, the state is not fully funding the actual costs of education, particularly special education

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The ability for districts to fund education at the local level has been limited by caps to local levies at $2.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value

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The reality is that while education costs like operational expenses and salaries continue to increase, resources to fund these expenses have been cut

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Without additional legislative fixes, school districts are facing significant cuts to schools, programs and staff

Four major factors have caused inequities among districts and overall reductions state-wide to funding for schools:

School Funding

1. Limitations to Local Levies

The ability to fund education locally through levies has been severely impacted with some districts losing big chunks of their total budget through the cap of $2.50 per $1,000 assessed property value.

2. Cuts to Local Effort Assistance (LEA)

Districts with lower property values are receiving less equalizing funding from the state, known as LEA funds.

3. Less $ for Long-serving Teachers

A new “one-size-fits-all” teacher salary allotment from the state means districts no longer receive additional state funds to compensate long-serving teachers with higher educational attainment.

4. Regionalization Calculations

Regionalization calculations give less money to districts with a lower cost of living.

How are districts managing the situation?

  • They are spending down reserves, which is not a sustainable solution
  • They are gearing up for or already making significant budget cuts and staffing reductions (in light of new funding model which reduces flexibility in how districts can raise and spend money)
  • They are managing their budgets wisely and working to provide sustainable budgets, even in the midst of this changing financial landscape
  • They are advocating for changes because the state still does not fund all elements of education (special education, staff salaries, needed positions, etc.)
  • They are helping the public understand that the ability to collect local funding for schools is greatly diminished, yet levies remain a critical resource – in some cases representing 20-30 percent of a school district’s overall budget

What can you do to help?

  • Since every district across the state is impacted in a different way by the funding changes, there is no one solution, aside from changes at the legislative level.
  • Contact your local school district to ask about the tough choices administrators are making and what you can do to help.

Bottom Line

Without a legislative fix, school districts will be forced to slice their budgets, which means potential cuts to school programs and staff. Contact your local school district to learn more about the budget challenges faced in your community.

Additional Resources

Media Coverage