Q & A

Background

In 2012, the state supreme court ruled that Washington was not properly funding public education, as required by Article IX of the state constitution. This court case is known McCleary vs State of Washington.

Since that time, the legislature has made significant changes to the school funding system. They have implemented a complex prototypical funding model that defines what they pay for.

These changes resulted in increased state funding. But this increase was offset by a significant reduction in the amount school districts can raise through local levies. The Washington Association of School Administrators has compiled a list of districts that actually have less money to work with now than they did before the “McCleary Fix.” They face potential cuts to programs and staff to maintain financial viability.

Q: The state supreme court has ruled that the legislature has satisfied their directive to fully fund education. Why are districts still struggling?

A: While the intention was good, there are unintended consequences. The new funding formula does not account for the loss of large amounts of local levy money. Districts use some of this local money for things like

  • co-curricular activities
  • special education
  • counselors
  • nurses
  • safety

The plan affects districts differently. But many will lack the money they need to cover higher operating and salary costs.

Q: What are the main factors that cause many districts to lose funding under the new model?

A: Two changes stand out:

  1. Funding for teacher salaries. Historically, the state-funded salaries based upon the experience level of the teaching staff they actually hire. Now the state funds all teacher positions based on statewide average experience. That means the funding for salaries in districts with more experienced teachers will come up short.
  2. Reduction of local levy capacity. Districts are now limited to collecting $1.50/1,000 or $2,500/student, whichever is less. This does not adjust at all for district property wealth, lack thereof, or districts’ needs. Historically, districts have been able to ask voters to approve a levy based upon a percentage of state and federal funding. This provided access to more local money as student needs increased.

Q: Didn’t the legislature increase state property taxes for education?

A: Yes, but this tax increase goes into the state general fund. These funds do not flow through to school districts in a fair way based upon the needs of their students.

Meanwhile, the state restricted districts’ ability to collect local levies. Many districts are not able to collect enough local funding to pay for non-state-funded programs or the actual cost of staff salaries.

Q: How does the new state funding structure change local Maintenance and Operations levies?

A: School districts rely on local funding to bridge the gap between what the state pays and actual operational expenses. Under the new plan, the state caps local levies at $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value to a maximum of $2,500/student. For many districts, this cap is far below what they have historically collected. The increase in state funding does not make up for the loss of other funding resources.

Q: How did the recent collective bargaining contracts impact district budgets?

A: Districts must pay the high salary levels for all positions, regardless of funding source. They now find themselves challenged to fund these higher salaries for federally and locally funded programs from their decreased local levy.

Q: Did the state also increase funding for classified positions and school administrators?

A: Yes. Using the prototypical school formula, the state increased the average allocation for these positions. This increase simply made up for the prior underfunding. Like teachers, many staff earn more than what the state allocates. As staff bargain for double-digit salary increases and districts face less local funding, some districts may be faced with cutting staff or programs to balance their budgets.

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