Senate education proposal reduces funding inequities and provides per-student dollar guarantee

Apr 11, 2017

Some Democratic lawmakers are complaining that the Senate Republican education budget is unfair because of how it would change local levy tax policy for schools. But the purpose of the Senate budget is not to punish or reward companies, like Boeing or other employers, under the tax code, or to pick winners and losers. Its purpose is to make sure all Washington’s school children are winners.

The Senate-passed education budget plan represents good public policy and would serve the public interest. That is because its central feature is a commitment from the state to provide a minimum guarantee of per-student funding for every child, or at least $12,500 per student from all sources. The budget would provide more for students with special needs, homeless students and students in poverty, and for students whose first language is not English.  The per-student dollar amount would increase in future years.  The Senate proposed budget would reform the current system to this per-student guarantee, while at the same time solving the problem of property-poor school districts having fewer resources than property-rich districts in Washington state.

Some of the lawmakers who criticize the Senate education budget proposal represent property-rich districts which benefit most from current levy inequities.  Children in wealthy areas get significantly more money from their local levies, despite lower levy rates, than children living in small towns or rural areas.

According to official government sources, a Seattle child receives $3,907 in local levy funding.  Administrators at the Seattle School District spend over $780 million a year, not counting capital spending, and represent by far the richest district in the state.  In contrast, a child in Aberdeen receives just $1,704 dollars in local levy funding, and a child in Toppenish receives only $292 in local levy funding.  For Washington’s 295 districts, the median levy per student is $2,183, far below the Seattle level. See these Download file 2014 figures from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The proposed Senate education budget would redress this imbalance with the following reforms:

Total Seattle per student funding would increase by $1,660, from $13,360 to $15,020 in 2018;

Total Aberdeen per student funding would increase by $1,560, from $12,930 to $14,490 in 2018;

Total Toppenish per student funding would increase by $2,740, from $11,890 to $14,630 in 2018.   

The Senate budget proposal directly addresses the weakness of Washington’s over-reliance on local levies, an endemic problem highlighted by the state supreme court in its McCleary ruling.  By creating a per-student guarantee for the schools based on the needs of children, with special needs children receiving more, the Senate proposal represents a significant step in the right direction.  Its per-student guarantee would reduce funding inequities in the system, encourage fair and collaborative solutions to learning, and would make every child a winner, no matter how rich or poor the taxpayers in the community happen to be.