Accountability and Learning: Assessing the Seattle Families and Education Levy
Paul Guppy, Vice President for Research, February, 2011
Seattle school administrators are seeking approval of a fourth education levy in two years. Yet, education research shows spending more money will not improve learning for Seattle school children. If the Families and Education Levy is approved, school administrators will likely perceive it as a signal that no fundamental change is needed, and students in Seattle public schools will continue to experience poor educational results and a high drop-out rate. Academic measures based on state standards show that increased spending has not led to improved learning for public school students in Seattle.
Failure of the levy, however, may prompt creative thinking inside the education establishment about how the current half-billion dollar budget is spent, and that could lead to real reform and improved learning outcomes for children.
When the first Families and Education Levy passed in 1990 supporters told the public it would help close the achievement gap and help more students finish school. The special levy was in addition to regular property taxes and has been renewed and expanded twice since then. The special levy is up for renewal again, at about twice the cost of the previous funding level. In the twenty years the levy has been in place, the people of Seattle have paid an additional $254 million in property taxes, while the levy has not produced the benefits supporters predicted: close the achievement gap between white and minority students, and ensure that more students stay in school.
Information from the Seattle Office of Education indicates the Families and Education Levy has failed to close the achievement gap, reporting in 2010 that “those gaps are as large as 50 percentage points.” The levy has also failed to help more Seattle students finish school. Today the public school drop-out rate remains steady at 32 percent, meaning only 68 percent of students finish school (for private schools the graduation rate is over 90 percent).
- Education research shows spending more money will not improve learning for Seattle school children.
- The current Families and Education Levy has failed to close the achievement gap.
- The levy has failed to help more Seattle students finish school.
- Seattle schools are well funded. Each year the public provides Seattle school officials with a generous operating budget of $567 million.
- Foreclosures are up, and about one-third of mortgage holders owe more than their homes are worth. Even so, in 2011 the property tax bill on a typical Seattle home increased by $324, or about eight percent, to $4,379.
- Failure of the levy could lead to real reform and improved learning outcomes for children.