Washington's 2017-19 state budget and education

Jun 29, 2017

The Washington state legislature has reached a deal on the 2017-19 state budget. The Seattle Times reports the new budget’s four year spending outlook increases education spending by $7.3 billion. Every detail is not yet available. Here is what we know so far.  

Lawmakers have met the McCleary demand for fully funding education. The numbers tell the story. In the current budget, K-12 schools receive $18.2 billion.  In 2012, the date of the McCleary ruling, the schools budget was $13.54 billion. Adding another $7.3 billion would mean that by 2019-21, K-12 spending will have increased by $12.0 billion since 2012, an 88 percent increase, nearly double.     

The entire picture of how this is being funded is not yet clear.

Taxpayers have already provided nearly $3 billion more in increased tax revenue receipts.

Lawmakers are creating new sources of revenue. One source will be a new state “local effort” property tax, to be levied in the amount of $0.81 per thousand dollars of assessed value. This is considerably lower than the $1.55 per thousand considered earlier. (Source: Tweet posted by Austin Jenkins, quoting Senator Braun (R-Centralia), Ways and Means Chair.) This tax is a response to the McCleary court’s finding the state is unconstitutionally over relying on local levy funding, and to reduce funding inequities between property poor and property rich districts.    

Other taxes under consideration include $1 billion in internet sales-tax expansion, and closing the tax exemptions on bottled water and extracted fuel.

Lawmakers have placed new limits on districts seeking to pass local levies for the enrichment of basic education. In 2019 districts can only levy the lesser of $1.50 per thousand dollars of assessed value of the property in the district, or a $2,500 per pupil limit.  

Now, for reforms to the way money is spent.  

Lawmakers have designed a new salary system for teachers and other school employees. The state will provide starting teachers higher pay, $40,000, and maximum salary will be $90,000, with adjustments for inflation (replacing COLA) and regional differences. These minimums and maximums only apply to the state’s basic education salary, not to supplemental contracts. Districts will be allowed to pay up to 10 percent over the maximum for teachers that are teaching in science, technology, engineering, math, or in the transitional bilingual or special education programs.

Lawmakers have retained the prototypical school model for funding the schools. Although they have not adopted a per student finance model, they have required the legislature, OSPI and districts to report spending in terms of per student dollar amounts. This will improve transparency and the public’s knowledge about how much money the schools are spending.   

Lawmakers have also increased funding for certain reductions in class size, to high poverty schools, to Career and Technical Classes, to the Learning Assistance Program, to Special Education, and to the Highly Capable Program. This redefines the state’s commitment to funding Initiative 1351, the class-size reduction initiative.

Lawmakers have removed health care benefits from local collective bargaining, bringing school employees into the Health Care Exchange.

This is what we know for now. We will provide more detail and analysis next week.