Daniel ZavalaBy Daniel Zavala, Director of Policy and Government Relations

96 days. That is how many days have passed since sine die (the official term for when the legislative session ends) back on July 20. Since that time, here at League of Education Voters, we’ve been sifting through the language of HB 2242 (the major education bill this past session) and the state budget (SB 5883) to determine the impact of new state money in K-12. All of this revolves around the context of the McCleary court order.

Importantly, today the Washington State Supreme Court heard oral arguments about whether the state fulfilled its duty to adequately fund basic education. Previously, the court ruled that the state overly relied on local levies to fill what the state wasn’t providing around compensation and K-3 class size reduction, among other areas. While both sides (the state and plaintiff’s attorney, Thomas Ahearne) made their case about whether the legislative action this year satisfies the court’s order, the direction around McCleary, adequacy, and equity still remains murky.

So where does this leave us, League of Education Voters and the general public, in making sense of what the legislature passed in July and what the court will consider in today’s arguments? I suppose the simpler answer is to say… still seeking information and answers to many questions about the distribution of the money, and whether it resulted in more money going to those students who need it most.

The more elaborate answer is to examine why it appears we are widening the financial gap between some local districts that historically have received more funding and those that have not. Under the new state law, every district will receive more state money than they currently receive. However, an analysis of expected district revenue illuminates a growing divide where many districts with high concentrations of historically underserved students will receive “less more money” than their peers. The chart below illustrates a small sampling of districts across the state, and how this paradox plays out over the implementation of McCleary money.

Projected Increase in Education Funding 2017-2021 - League of Education Voters
Note: Percent increases use current enrollment data per OSPI’s Multi-Year Budget Comparison Tool

For context, you can review the Regionalization Factor (% increase for teacher salary based on housing values in district and those of districts within 15 miles of the boundary) and the Free-Reduced Price Lunch Enrollment.

Tukwila Mercer Island Highline Lake Washington Wenatchee Yakima Sunnyside
Regionalization Factor       (2020-21) 18% 18% 18% 18% 5% 0% 0%
FRL Enrollment (Current) 73% 3% 63% 11% 55% 72% 85%


Spokane Walla Walla Tonasket Bethel Aberdeen Bellingham
Regionalization Factor       (2020-21) 5% 0% 0% 0% 0% 11%
FRL Enrollment (Current) 57% 55% 64% 49% 66% 35%


Many of us were expecting the McCleary solution to remedy the disparities in state allocation, levy collection, and expenditures from district to district. The stated intention of the legislature was focused on this as well. Notwithstanding well-intentioned actions, implementation matters. Here the implementation of policies and distribution of money remains unclear. For example, we must ask how and why some districts with higher proportions of historically underserved students (e.g. students from low-income households, English learners, students in migrant households, etc.), like Yakima and Aberdeen, are expected to receive a smaller increase in state funding than other districts.

Illuminating these disparities can be difficult because it has the perception of pitting districts against each other for resources. That is not my intention. My intention is to show that some districts, like Yakima and Aberdeen, should receive a greater increase of state funding because of their greater district needs that cannot be fully met with local levy money. It appears, under the current plan, some of the policies enacted result in a greater disadvantage for, or impact on, districts like Yakima and Aberdeen. While they receive more state funding, in order to fully meet the needs of their student populations, they need to be on the other side of the equation – getting more state funding increases than their peers in order to reach parity. Education is a matter of equity, giving those what they need to reach their potential, rather than creating uniform policies that can and will create disproportionate outcomes.

It is our responsibility, as members of the public, to ask for greater transparency to assist our job of monitoring the implementation of state funds that account for over half of the state budget. As I continue the oversight, a few questions guide my inquiry:

  • What information and data are we missing to make a conclusive statement about what is happening?
  • While more money was put into the system, is it going to the places where it is needed most and will yield the highest outcomes for kids?
  • Are we doing right by students, true justice, in the legislature’s response to the McCleary order, or are we just setting up another system that is recreating vast inequities?

8 comments on “The Supreme Court’s McCleary Check In

  1. Comment on the prototypical model — this was left in place. Is this underlying structure itself problematic? What is wrong with a per pupil approach to funding?

    1. Thanks, Omar. We have had many discussions about different funding models with policymakers, and we’re agnostic about the funding mechanism. We just want more resources to go to our students who need the most support.


  2. As a veteran teacher in a small district near Aberdeen, I am frightened by the unknown. Two questions I have so far:
    1. How can small impoverished districts such as mine hope to attract qualified staff? The cost of living (housing) is less — we had that in our favor. Scrapping the statewide salary schedule will now make it even harder to get the attention of good applicants.
    2. I appreciate the information here, but it barely scratches the surface. Where does a taxpayer / resident / teacher get the answers to make informed decisions about how to vote / save / negotiate with such a complicated situation? I was just trying to figure out how to vote on Advisory Vote 18. And echoing through my head were the word of our district supt.,” We’re getting less money; taxpayers will be paying more; we are cutting, cutting, cutting.” Yet even the WEA is saying teachers are getting a raise, schools are getting more money. HOW DOES A PERSON SORT THIS OUT?

    1. Thank you, Jon, for your work as a teacher in a small district. You bring up valid concerns, the issues are complex, and we are doing our best to sort this out. We will release more analysis as soon as we have it.

  3. Pingback: Rich school districts will benefit more than poor ones from Washington’s budget, new analysis suggests – CHB Blog
  4. Daniel,
    You bring up some excellent points. However, there are a couple of important items that you did not address that I believe will lead to more disparity between rich districts and rural districts. Losing the Salary Allocation Model (SAM) and the Staff Mix (which helped poor rural districts at least offer the same base salary as most other districts) is going to be devastating. Richer districts will have more resources to offer more competitive salaries. That is not equity, that is tragic. We will now be forced to hire “the least expensive teacher” rather than the best qualified teacher. The Sam and Staff Mix worked well and should have been kept with the increases in salary for teachers in 2242. The loss of levy capacity will create significant hardship in many rural districts districts as well. The “increase” in state funding will mostly be categorical so many of the programs we currently use levy dollars for (i.e. supporting FFA, FBLA, drama, employing extra teaching and support staff beyond what the prototypical funding model pays for, etc. ) are all at-risk.
    Jim Kowalkowski, Superintendent – Davenport School District &
    Director- Rural Education Center

    1. Thank you for sending along your notes. Gathering feedback from people (especially practitioners like yourself) around the state is the most important part of analyzing the impacts of HB 2242. As you point out, the issues and impacts are complex, and we are still in the process of fully analyzing the impacts of HB 2242. Stay on the lookout for more as we continue digging in. Also, happy to set up a time to chat more in-depth if you are able.
      – Daniel

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