Education Funding

I’ve received hundreds of email messages this session urging me to not cut education funding. I agree. I tried very hard this year to have the least impact on K-12 as possible in the budget process. The House budget proposal was better for K-12 than either the Senate’s or the Governor’s proposals. In the final negotiations with the Senate we had to come closer to their proposal, particularly on educator compensation, though the 1.9% reduction we finally agreed to was less than the 3% the Senate had proposed.

Our K-12 investment is between 40 and 45% of the state’s general fund expenditures, so making any significant cuts without affecting K-12 is almost impossible. Specifically, the email messages urge me to “Do not cut education. Create a tax that provides stable, secure, and sustainable funding specifically for education.”

We have work to do as a state to provide an education system that’s adequate to prepare our children to succeed in the 21st century. Until this downturn I had hoped that a strategy of taking a larger share of the normal growth of the state budget would get us to the place we needed to be. I’m no longer sure this is true given the depths of the cuts that we’ve had to sustain over the last few years.

It’s hard to imagine a single tax that would adequately provide for public education, let alone our entire education system, including early learning and higher education. K-12 alone is 43% of the general fund budget. Our forebears thought they had provided for education by dedicating the property tax to K12, but this hasn’t worked out as well as they thought for a variety of reasons.

Had we not adopted the series of property tax limitation initiatives and acts of the legislature we would be generating about $1.5 billion a year more for K-12, and it would be constitutionally dedicated to public education, and not available to be spent on other things.

In addition to the inadequacy of funding at the state level there are a number of other pernicious problems in the K-12 funding system that need to be fixed. In particular,

  1. Grandfathered salaries in a handful of districts. About a dozen districts have salaries for teachers that are up to 5% higher than those for the rest of the state. As you might imagine, districts near the grandfathered districts have a huge uphill fight in bargaining compensation.
  2. There are similar differences in how school levies are figured out, with some districts able to raise significantly more money than others.

I intend to spend a large fraction of my time, and the time and attention of the Ways and Means committee in the House, addressing these problems and proposing a solution. There are a number of ideas to consider, including an intriguing idea called “The Iseminger Education Finance Plan.” David’s plan is worth reading, though there are parts of it I’m not sure will work all that well.

We have more work to do here, including ensuring that the money will be well spent. There are many policy considerations that we can do to make sure we are getting our money’s worth, and to ensure that all the children in Washington have access to an education that prepares them for a productive life. Stay tuned.

Author: Ross

I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.