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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

We all know how important education is to families and our state. A strong education system is the foundation for strong communities. My wife and I have raised three children and helped a fourth be adequately raised and educated, and I understand the task at hand. I believe parents and/or guardians are the primary educators of their children, and schools play a big part in helping parents with this monumental responsibility.

What does the state constitution say about education in this state?

The people who drafted our state constitution also understood the importance of education. Article IX, Section 1, says: “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.” Article IX, Section 2, says: “The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools.”

The McCleary decision and the education debate

There has been a great debate the last few years about our state’s role in funding its K-12 education system. Our state Supreme Court initiated this debate with its McCleary decision in 2012, which said the state (specifically, the Legislature) was not upholding its constitutional duty to adequately fund basic education. This timeline explains the McCleary decision and other aspects of K-12 education spending.

While the state Supreme Court, in its opinion, ruled our state does not spend enough on education, a question needs to be asked: Does the state Supreme Court, whose duty is to interpret the law, have the constitutional right to force the Legislature to act?

Many of you have contacted me to share your opinions on this issue. Some believe our state does not spend enough, some think we spend enough but not in the right ways, some think our state spends too much and should be more focused on other areas, and some would simply like more information. Regardless of where you are on this spectrum, I thought some facts might be helpful.

Operating budget | How are schools budgeted for?

Every other year, state lawmakers craft a two-year operating budget that takes effect on July 1 of that year. This budget pays for our state’s K-12 public schools, human services, health care, higher education, debt service, corrections system, general government, natural resources, and other financial obligations. Here is a breakdown of the areas by percentages from the 2013-15 operating budget:

  • 45.2% | K-12 public schools
  • 17.1% | Department of Health and Social Services
  • 12.7% | Health Care Authority
  • 9.2% | Higher education
  • 5.5% | Debt service
  • 5% | Department of Corrections
  • 4.5% | All other (including legislative and judicial)
  • 0.8% | Natural resources

Source: Washington State Operating Budget Briefing Book (January 2015) — page 17.

The 2013-15 operating budget dedicates $15.3 billion to K-12 education. By comparison, the 1999-2001 operating budget spent $9.4 billion on K-12 education, representing 43% of the total near general fund. Source: K-12 Finance Overview (January 2015) — page 9.

Where do the taxes come from for the operating budget?

The best known tax is the sales and use tax that is added to the total of our purchases.  Almost every tangible item we buy is subject to the tax. One major exception is food.  The sales tax is one of the major sources of state revenue. Both of these taxes combined are forecasted to contribute around 52% of the money for the 2015-17 operating budget. Another familiar tax is the business and occupation tax (B&O), which will add about 20%. The state property tax will contribute approximately 11%, so every homeowner and property owner pays this tax. Source: Washington State Operating Budget Briefing Book (January 2015) — page 8.

What laws established our state system of basic education?

Two major pieces of legislation established our state’s current system of basic education: House Bill 2261 from 2009, and House Bill 2776 from 2010. This presentation (pages 15-17) explains what these measures established.

Our state allocates funding through pre-established school model formulas. From there, local school district board members decide how this funding is used.

The state has 295 school districts and educates 1,041,000 students (in 2000, this number was around 988,000). Our state has 62,480 certified instructional staff, 4,100 certified administrative staff and 37,273 classified staff. Source: K-12 Finance Overview (January 2015) — page 4.

Where do school districts get their money?

When school district board members write their operating budgets, they rely on funding from four primary sources: the state (around 68%); local taxes, primarily maintenance and operation levies that are a tax against assessed property, (around 23%); the federal government (around 8%); and miscellaneous sources (around 1%). Source: K-12 Finance Overview (January 2015) — page 6.  

In the 2014-15 school year, schools districts across our state will collectively receive $11.6 billion from these sources. In the 2000-01 school year, that number was $6.7 billion. Total school district operating revenue has increased 3.3% on average annually. Source: K-12 Finance Overview (January 2015) — page 7. 

Per pupil spending

Another statistic you may have heard about is cost per pupil. For the 2014-15 school year, K-12 public schools’ cost per pupil in our state is estimated to be $11,303. In the 2000-01 school year, cost per pupil was $7,041. School district operating costs are projected to increase by 6.9% per pupil in the 2014-15 school year. Source: K-12 Finance Overview (January 2015) — page 8.

Does lottery revenue go toward education?

I am often asked, especially during telephone town hall meetings, where does lottery revenue go? For the 2013-15 budget cycle, the state is expected to generate $288.1 million in revenue from the lottery. Here is a breakdown of where that money will go:

Source: Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast (November 2014) — page 75.

The revenue generated from the lottery is only a small portion of what is needed to pay for basic education in our state.

2015 legislative session

K-12 education spending will continue to be front and center throughout the 2015 legislative session. Will the current make-up of the Legislature increase K-12 education funding by finally prioritizing it in the budget process, or raise taxes?

My stance has been consistent: I believe we should fund education first, as is required by our state constitution, and that new tax increases should be the absolute last resort.

I will keep you updated throughout the legislative session as we continue working on the operating budget. As always, I welcome your feedback.

In your service,

Dan Kristiansen

State Representative Dan Kristiansen, 39th Legislative District
426A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7967 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000