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K-12 Funding: Building on a Shaky Foundation

Release Date: 

April 3, 2013

1993 ushered in the birth of the World Wide Web at CERN, Beanie Babies, and the passage of Washington’s Education Reform Act. A lot has changed in education over the last 20 years. Our students are more diverse, and our educators are tasked with implementing multiple rigorous pathways for them to be successful in a quickly changing and increasingly demanding array of postsecondary opportunities.

But some things haven’t changed. We took closer look at the funding categories in the public schools operating budget in 1993 and 2013. It turns out that the foundation of the budget, General Apportionment, hasn’t kept pace with the rise in inflation or increase in student enrollment since 1993. Staff ratios, the main driver of general apportionment, are the same as they were 20 years ago except for K-12 classified staff, and this ratio actually went down one classified staff per Full Time Enrollment (FTE).


Compensation hasn’t changed much either. Increases to base salaries haven’t kept pace with inflation, and the state’s increased spending on health benefits is commensurate with general increases in health benefits costs.


If staffing hasn’t increased, then what has? Smaller categorical programs, such as the Transitional Bilingual Program (TBIP), Learning Assistance Program (LAP), and Special Education have experienced significant increases in funding, along with the number of students eligible to receive those services. Additionally, the levy equalization fund, which accounts for 4% of the 2013 public schools operating budget, went from around $82 million in 1993 to $298 million in 2013.


Education Reform funding, which is a mixed bucket of K-12 programs, increased by a factor of close to 14. The fund pays for things like our assessment system and bonuses for National Board Certified Teachers (NBCT). Why the big increase? NBCT bonuses didn’t exist in 1993 and our assessment system was at the beginning of a phased-in implementation plan.


Basically, we’ve increased our funding of categorical programs and provisos, on top of the shaky foundation of general apportionment. It’s also worth noting that school districts have more flexibility when it comes to spending general apportionment funds, allowing them to more strategically allocate resources and address needs in their local communities. It makes you wonder, what would student outcomes look like if the basics were fully funded?

Emily Persky, Research Analyst

Media Contact: 

Alissa Muller, SBE Communications Manager, (360) 725-6501