Despite our state constitution’s declaration that education is the “paramount duty” of our state, Washington ranks 49th out of 50 states in spending for public K–12 schools relative to individual income. We are not putting in the public effort needed to support a world-class education system and the Washington State Supreme Court agrees. In its McCleary v. Washington ruling, the court found that the state is not fulfilling its constitutional responsibility to fund basic education, and required the legislature to take action.
In 2012, the state convened the Education Funding Taskforce, which determined that $4.5 billion in every two-year state budget is needed to meet the state’s existing obligations to fund education.
In the time between the 2012 McCleary ruling and the court-imposed 2018 deadline, the state will pass three two-year budgets. In June 2013, the Washington legislature passed the first of those three budgets.
2013–2015 Education budget
In passing their first post-McCleary budget, the legislature put $1 billion more funding toward education, or 23 percent of the needed educational increases determined necessary by the Education Funding Taskforce.
The majority of resources, $840 million, went toward funding that will apply evenly across the system regardless of educational need, while $195 million, or 19 percent, is targeted to programs that provide additional support to students with greater educational needs. The additional $195 million is targeted to low-income students, struggling schools, and English Language Learners in order to close our state’s opportunity and achievement gaps.
Creating an equitable K–12 funding system
In 2013, the legislature made significant steps toward a more equitable funding system by increasing funding for the Learning Assistance Program, the Transitional Bilingual Instructional program, and the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP), but more is still needed.
States that provide additional funding to low-income students tend to provide more substantial funding than Washington’s $466 per student. Research indicates that low-income students require additional funding of 25–35 percent above the baseline student funding to provide the academic support needed to meet state educational goals. Currently, Washington state provides average additional funding of 8.8 percent per low-income student.
An additional 23–32 percent above the base student funding is needed to support English Language Learners as they acquire English language proficiency. Currently, the state is providing an additional 15 percent to help English Language Learners achieve language proficiency through the Transitional Bilingual Instructional Program.
Further, the legislature took steps toward fulfilling its obligation to fully fund ECEAP, which provides free preschool to low-income three- and four-year-olds. There is overwhelming research that demonstrates the significant and lasting impact that high-quality preschool opportunities have on overcoming the opportunity gap. The legislature increased funding for ECEAP by 1,700 slots in the 2013–15 budget, as well as increased the reimbursement rate for childcare providers as part of their plan to increase quality. To meet the requirements in law, Washington must add funding for an additional 6,000 slots for ECEAP by 2019.
Students have different levels of academic proficiency, English language knowledge, and barriers to learning that impact the type of supports needed to provide them with a high-quality education. Our state made progress during the 2013 legislative session in better supporting students with greater educational needs, but we still are not providing enough funding to fully support these students in reaching their educational goals.
Since the 2014 legislative session was a short 60-day session in a non-budget year, minimal changes were made to our state’s K–12 education budget.
LEV activists are already busy planning for the 2014–15 legislative session. Contact us to learn more or get involved.
A PARAMOUNT DUTY: Funding Education for McCleary and Beyond. Washington Budget and Policy Center. (February 2013)
School Funding: Providing Ample, Equitable & Stable Resources. (January 2013)