The Bottom Line Washington is a Great Example of What Not to Do With Education Funding
After dumping almost another $1 billion into funding for education, why do the local school districts in Washington State keep needing more money? House Bill 2242, passed in 2017, effectively ended the drawn out McCleary decision. The bill authorized the state to raise local property taxes to increase school funding and called for a reduction of levy funding to make the funding for property-poor districts more equitable. The property tax increase went into effect last year and the levy reduction goes into effect this year. Thus, for one year, property-rich districts had a windfall of funding since they received the new property tax revenues and retained their levy funding.
Knowing that districts had excess funds for one year, a number of new contracts were signed, many of only one year duration, that provided school employees with double-digit raises. These increases effectively used up the excess funds. Now, with the levy funds declining, districts are lobbying both their communities and the Legislature to increase funding so they can balance their budgets.
Now the newly introduced Senate Bill 5313 is intended to maintain the state-wide property tax increase while eliminating the cap on local levies. Basically, the schools in property-rich districts, and their unions, want their cake and eat it, too. If they get away with it, we’ll be right back to where we started, only education costs will have dramatically increased.
As Washington Policy Center’s Director for Education, Liv Finne, states in her testimony at the state legislature, “SB 5313 would turn back the clock and re-introduce inequity in school funding, to the benefit of wealthy school districts, leaving students in property-poor districts with proportionately less money, exactly the unfairness problem the McCleary case was supposed to solve.”
Regardless of how this turns out, increasing spending isn’t the answer to fixing education. As Don Nielsen states in his book, Every School, “Though substantial increases in funding of education have occurred in the past several decades, student test scores are still about the levels they were in 1970.” This is a classic example of dealing with a problem, but not focusing on the source of the problem. The problem is not that the state hasn’t set up sufficient funding to deal with basic education. It has and the courts ruled in its favor. The problem is that that many children are not learning in the present system and more money is not going to change that. We have a system problem, not a funding problem. Until legislators and voters understand that, we will always be trying to solve the problem by spending more money. It has never worked, and it will never work. Washington State is about to prove that point again.