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State’s New Education Funding System Has Created Some Inequities Between Districts

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
File photo: Representatives worked on the House floor during discussion of a bill to fully fund education in Washington state at the Capitol Friday, June 30, 2017, in Olympia

This is a busy week at the bargaining table for school districts and teachers’ unions. They’re contending with the state’s new education funding system, which one expert says has created some new inequities.

After the state Supreme Court ruled that Washington was failing to fully fund public schools, lawmakers agreed to hike the state property tax to cover the cost of basic education.

They also set limits on how much districts can raise through local levies. Local levies are capped at the lesser of $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed value or $2,500 per student. 

Property-rich districts such as Seattle are capped at raising $2,500 per student in local tax revenue.

Districts with less valuable property, such as Highline just south of Seattle, can raise $1,500 per student in a combination of local levy dollars and what’s known as local effort assistance, which is money from the state to help districts with relatively low property values.

Jacob Vela, senior policy analyst with the research group League of Education Voters, said that creates a disparity between two neighboring districts.

“That’s a thousand dollars per student differential in local funding,” Vela said. “That really does impact what supports and services can be offered by districts.”

Under the state’s new funding system, the state is supposed to pay for a larger share of the costs. But school districts say the state isn’t fully paying for everything yet, including special education and school nurses, which is why they say they still need local tax levies.

Another way the state has created differences among districts is by providing as much as 24 percent in extra funding to districts that have high property values.

The aim is to help districts be able to recruit teachers to places where housing costs are relatively expensive.

The Shoreline school district, for example, gets 24 percent extra while the Northshore, Edmonds and Seattle districts get 18 percent extra, and Tacoma’s regionalization factor is 12 percent.

But state schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal has said that has created some inequities between neighboring districts because teachers can easily live in an area with lower-cost housing and commute to a district that’s able to pay more. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.