Understand the consequences of underfunded K-12 students

Revenue For Education — Taxes: the other side of the funding equation

For Every Action, An Equal and Opposite Reaction

Before we can choose to spend funding, we have choices for generating the revenue. Depending on your point of view, one side of the funding equation is the dog, the other the tail being wagged.

Determining a balance between the sides of the equation, and achieving a balance on who is making those decisions, is the grand endeavor ultimately asked of our Legislature — taxes.

School Districts Must Have A Balanced Budget

Each and every year school districts can only disburse what they receive, and they can only receive what is allocated to them by a series of funding formulas and revenue collection systems. Often the formulas are funded via rules and policies that can be inconsistent, irrational and inflexible, through fiscal systems that don’t adequately fulfill the laws or meet the real need. But at the beginning of every year they must present the State auditors with a balance budget.

For districts facing shrinking revenues and growing costs, there’s a limit to what districts can do to increase revenues before they ultimately have to begin cutting back services.

Usually, districts try to avoid cutting instructional programs and begin by targeting administrative and support services. But districts that have faced multiple years of budget cuts, must eventually cut instructional programs as well.

From which budget items do you think the shortfall of funding should be taken? Before the generic response is given of “cut wasteful spending, better apply the savings”, look at the budgets and line items yourself to see what choice you would make. And what the cascading consequences are to those choices. Sometimes, if not often, it cost more money later to save money now.

No One Is Going To Say There Is Not Any Waste

There is waste or inefficiencies in the funding systems — , as there is in any multi-billion, highly complex system — but very, very few of those who study the actual numbers believes there is enough waste worth going after at all-cost, or that the savings would yield any where near a meaningful alternative use of those dollars.

Yes it is worth doing everything reasonable to save costs and eliminate waste — but most Districts are well past that point.

Learn more about how the funding processes of public education lag far behind the system’s capability to deliver a world-class education.

The Role of WA Taxes

What taxes (sources of revenue) fund the WA K-12 public schools?

· The State’s Funds come mostly from statewide sales tax and property tax revenues that go into the General Fund—about 68-75% of a school district’s budgets.

· Most Local Funds come from property taxes—about 18-24% of a school district’s budget

· Federal Funds are distributed to States to distribute—about 7-11% of a school district’s budget

What portion of County funds go towards public schools?

Each county varies. One of the most populated counties, King County, about 52% of the total collected property taxes support public schools. Out of that amount, about 50% stays in the local school district of the county residents, and the other half goes to the State General Fund for disbursement across the State. Other county’s percentages can vary considerably. Some apply a higher rate of the total collected, but their school districts also receive a larger percent of their budgets from the General Fund.

Creating Value and Return On Investment

It is very difficult to create new value. It is equally difficult to create additional value from a vacuum — capital markets, and capitalistic free-market systems, demonstrate over and over that a multi-dimensional environment is required to sustain a growing enterprise. No county, and no school district, is an island, or should be, in our democracy.

“We Americans are infatuated with the idea of the self-made man or woman, but there is no such creature.”  David McCullough



Funding Washington Schools

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WA State’s Background Info and Data on the State Budget and Taxes

Resources explaining the overall budget, taxes, property taxes specifically, and the data on dollars and fiscal statistics.


A Citizen’s Guide to K-12 Public School Finance 2012


Compare to a previous versions -

A Citizen’s Guide to K-12 Public School Finance 2011

A Citizen’s Guide to K-12 Public School Finance 2009


Citizen Guide To the WA State Budget 2008 (rev.3)

Legislative Guide to WA Property Taxes—2007

Tax Comparisons 2005



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The School Finance Redesign Project: A Synthesis of Project Work to Date

Paul Hill, January 2008; Download Full Report (PDF: 651 K); Center on Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington,

© 2008 Center on Reinventing Public Education, University of Washington, 2101 N 34th Street, Suite 195 | Seattle, WA 98103-9158; crpe@u.washington.edu; 206.685.2214

Education still claims the lion’s share of state and local government expenditures, but rising costs and competition with other sectors (e.g., public safety, health care) have put public education in a squeeze. Though there are moral and legal arguments for spending whatever it takes to give our children a good education, the reality is that spending will always be finite; moreover, as in other parts of the public sector, there will always be more ideas about how to spend money than there is money available.

In the past decade, controversies about public spending on education have grown as states adopted performance standards pledging that every child will learn enough to become an independent productive citizen and as No Child Left Behind has put teeth into those expectations. Educators say that meeting higher standards requires more money. Some policymakers claim that past spending increases were large enough to pay for higher performance if funds were used productively. While litigants have asked courts to determine what amount of spending is adequate to allow schools to meet standards and then to mandate commensurate spending increases, defendants in “adequacy” lawsuits have argued that greater expenditures alone will not lead to higher school performance. Critics of demands for more money point to cases in New Jersey, Arkansas, and Kansas City where major spending increases were misspent, with little or no impact on student learning. Though no one seriously argues that more spending could never lead to school improvement, there is reason to fear that without changes in the way funds are spent, Americans could end up with a more expensive, but not necessarily more effective or equitable, system of public education.

In this environment, elected officials, especially governors and state legislators, have searched for answers to two questions: How much money will it take for all students to meet standards and how should the money be spent? The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation asked the Center on Reinventing Public Education (CRPE) to create a School Finance Redesign Project (SFRP) to help elected officials better understand how the finance system now works and to identify their options in allocating resources to support K-12 education. The project, initiated in 2002 and supported with nearly $6 million in Gates Foundation funds, has now grown to include more than 30 separate projects. This Interim Report explains the questions we posed, the research strategies we employed, and the ways in which we will present the results. It also previews some of our early findings.