Understand the consequences of underfunded K-12 students

Some Answers — The Home Page Questions and Statistics

The Home Page Lists Questions and Statistics

Here are some answers, with additional info to help you bring questions to your schools and legislators.

There is a Crisis causes and consequences shared across Washington State school funding.

The Evidence is Rational school funding facts relevant and critical to every WA community.

There is Opportunity for a Solution ESHB 2261 education reform bill in progress.

Advocacy Works inform and support policymakers as they debate ed funding issues.

Are These Familiar Questions, But The Answers Hard To Come By?

¨ Why are class sizes so large and class rooms overcrowded?

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The size of a class — the number of students sitting in front of a teacher — is largely the result of the state’s limited funding for staff. In addition, local conditions also play a role in determining class sizes. The class-size question reflects every issue inherent to underfunding the K-12 system.

For reference, researchers hired by Washington state recommend a class size of 15 for K-3 and class size of 25 for grades 4-12.  Research Source:  Picus, Lawrence O. and Associates, An Evidence-Based Approach to School Finance Adequacy in Washington: Prepared for the K-12 Advisory Committee of Washington Learns, Final Report Sept. 11, 2006. http://www.washingtonlearns.wa.gov/materials/EvidenceBasedReportFinal9-11-06_000.pdf

State Funding Formulas Provide Insufficient Funds to Hire Teachers and Other Certificated Instructional Staff

The state’s funding formulas allot a maximum of 53.2 certificated instructional staff for every 1,000 students in grades K-4 in a district and 46 certificated staff for every 1,000 students in grades 5-12.

Besides core classroom teachers, certificated instructional staff include librarian-teachers, counselors, teaching specialists, nurses, instructional coaches, psychologists, social workers, speech language pathologists and other professionals who are certified to work with children.

Taking into account all these different staff, researchers recommend as many as 71 certificated instructional staff for every 1,000 students.  That’s 71 compared to the state number of 46 for 1,000 students in grades 5-12.

Since the state does not provide enough funding for all types of certificated instructional staff, districts are forced to use local funds to hire additional staff. Even so, it’s still not enough to bring class sizes down. Core classroom sizes still exceed 30 students in many schools across the state.

Districts must still make tough staffing decisions. For example, to ensure all students meet math and reading requirements, districts often offer small-size (as recommended by research) remedial classes in these subjects. To do so, districts have transferred core classroom teachers to remedial classrooms, at the cost of overcrowding the core classrooms. 

In the past several years, state education revenues have not kept pace with the rising costs of staffing, educational resources, and essentials such as fuels, electricity and insurance. In this budget squeeze, districts have turned increasingly to local revenues to finance the shortfall in basic education. But this tactic has its limits, and districts have had to make budget cuts.

Although districts try to minimize the effect of budget cuts on instruction, the truth is, instruction has been affected. In some cases, tightening budgets prevented districts from replacing teachers who resigned or left the district. The result? Again, larger class sizes. 

Finally, even though the legislature passed I-728 that provided funds to reduce class sizes among other things, districts have been forced to redirect these funds to other program areas, such as remediation, that are more in need and not fully financed by the state.

Local Conditions Play a Role in Determining Class Sizes

Within a district, variations in class size may occur simply because more students live within the boundaries of one school than another. Decisions to alter boundaries to better balance school enrollments are never easy. Such decisions must take into account the cost of transportation, the building space available, and parents’ preferences.

Financing to improve or expand building space is very difficult to obtain and relies much more on local funding than does the financing to operate our schools.

Washington Enrolls More Students per Teacher than Most Other States

In the 2005-06 school year, Washington’s 19.3 enrolled-students per teacher makes it the 5th highest in the nation. The national average was 15.6. Compared to other states in the western region, Washington’s number of enrolled-students per teacher was below California (21.0) and Oregon (19.8) but above Idaho (18.0). For a variety of reasons, this measure of students to teachers does not translate into the “average class size” in any given school, district, or state.

Source: 2008 Citizen’s Guide to K-12 FinanceNational information is often utilized to compare different aspects of K-12 finance. It should be noted that comparisons with other states, while interesting, often do not lend themselves to any definitive conclusions regarding each state’s K-12 finance system, due to differences in reporting practices, demographics, and public school funding systems.

Class size by itself is not necessarily an issue, but without all the other qualities—an adequate number high quality staff, academically consistent students, available building space, adequate instructional materials, etc—class size becomes a readily recognizable target of frustrations. Each characteristic of class-size directly confronts a funding formula equation.

Additional resources on class size from BEF and OSPI. Other reports:

Class Size and Other Fundamental Decisions—05/06/08

Committing to Class-Size Reduction and Finding the Resources to Implement It: A Case Study of Resource Reallocation

What Research Says About Small Classes and Their Effects

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¨ Why are districts letting go librarians, cutting classroom programs and curriculums, charging more user fees, and closing neighborhood school buildings?

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Underfunding, underfunding, underfunding, underfunding.

All the incremental deficits in support cause districts to ‘nibble around the edges’ of programs and line items that are more enduring due to the laws, contracts and process that provide better protection when times get lean. And times are lean.

¨ Why does our high school have 6 periods while other districts have 7?

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The state pays for 5 class periods per day. Sufficient local levy dollars often pay for one additional hour to provide a 6 period day. In some districts, additional local levy dollars (combined with above-average state allocations for staff or I-728 funds) can pay for 7 periods.

Each additional period hour offers significant advantages in preparing for college requirements or CTE job training. Over their high school career, a student at a 7-period school could gain not only an additional 6-8 classes, but 6-8 AP or other advanced classes offering superior opportunities to advanced careers.  All because they live in one area of the state and not another.

Overview of WA State Board of Education’s Core 24 project.

The Core 24 recommended requirements by the WA State Board of Education.

Does your high school currently provide enough graduation credits for a student to be eligible for college?

¨ Why is access to AP classes often limited?

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AP classes are often funded primarily or wholly through local levy money. Each district is left to their own decisions on how to prioritize staff, space and time to AP/BC. A big factor too is whether a district is able to provide 7 vs 6 hour periods in the high school curriculum—the state pays for 5. When local levy dollars are locally re-allocated to pay for state Basic Ed programs, there are not enough sources to replace the dollars that pay for AP courses.

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¨ Why are graduates not getting hired at the higher paying job?

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See the two topics above—the number of high school periods plus the availability of CTE or AP classes.

¨ Why aren’t accomplished seniors getting accepted at our local state colleges?

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High school graduation requirements are less and fewer than application requirements to most state 2- or 4-year schools. WA high school graduation requirements are not aligned with college admission requirements — often the best graduate’s transcript falls short, much less the many graduates expecting to simply have a choice of continuing. Again, see the topics above—the number of high school periods and availability of AP or BC classes.

Additionally, high schools are often ranked by competitive colleges per their degree of course rigor and depth — how does your high school rank in the UW’s admission decision?  A 4.0 grade point average is not equally rated from across the state— many high schools’ grading is discounted compared to other more demanding secondary schools. A standout student from a high school is handicapped by the opportunities offered simply by the vagaries of school district boundaries.

¨ Why is turn-over often so high among teachers, especially within their first 3 years?

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The marketplace for quality employees is competitive—teacher salaries often are not. There is plenty of rationales and blame to spread around for this question. So where could one start?

The K-12 teaching career path is often not treated as being professional, nor conducive to retaining professionals. These people - career specialist employees - are entrusted with an immense responsibility, tasked with teaching children to adequately become the next generation. These people hold vast obligations, and should be supported.

Funding Washington Schools

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3 Stats on Students of Washington State

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1)    51% of 10th graders meet math standards


2)    71% of students graduate on time


3)   34% of graduates qualify as college-ready

Does your high school currently provide enough graduation credits for a student to be eligible for college?

How does your high school rank in the UW’s admission decision?

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3 Stats on Schools of Washington State

1)   42nd in average class size


2)   44th in state funding per student ($7,432 vs $8,973 U.S. per student)


3)   25% of WA’s total revenue goes to K-12 (41% of all General Revenue)


Source: 2008 Citizen’s Guide to K-12 Finance prepared by staff of the Senate Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Committee with staff of the Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program (LEAP) Committee.