Has the legislature fixed public education?

Has the legislature fixed public education?

Has the legislature fixed public education?

With House Bill 2242 becoming law, the Washington State Legislature adopted the final elements of a plan to fully fund public education and satisfy the Washington Supreme Court in the case of McCleary v. State of Washington. The court agreed, stating,

“The 2017 legislature enacted a funding system that, when fully implemented, will achieve constitutional compliance according to the benchmarks that have consistently guided judicial oversight.”

The plan and the increases in recent years are stunning, but those who care about services for children are wise to have some lingering questions.

FIRST, the Legislature has done an astonishing job of adding resources

This task is even more astonishing given that the court departed from its role of deciding whether the Legislature had properly funded the existing statutory definition of basic education. Instead, the court had the audacity to decide what basic education should include, and judged the Legislature on whether that moving target was funded.

Then, in addition to moving the goal post for the Legislature and then finding the state funding inadequate, the court retained jurisdiction and continues to move the goal posts as pressed by the plaintiffs and other interests.

Since the court’s original ruling on Jan. 5, 2012, state funding for K-12 has increased from $13.4 billion in the 2011-13 biennium to $22.0 billion in the 2017-19 biennium.

At full implementation in the 2019-21 fiscal biennium, EHB 2242 requires expenditures totaling $26.6 billion.

A doubling of state funding in eight years.

Just six years ago, schools were open and staffed, districts made payroll, students were transported, fed, taught and offered supplemental program assistance with about 60 percent of the money provided today.

Transportation funding has been revamped and funded at a defensible rate.

Materials, Supplies and Operating Costs went from $546.37 per student in 11-12 to $1,264.07 per student next year – A 131 percent increase.

Unfortunately, much of this money got captured at the bargaining table as teacher pay raises, and still parents, businesses and PTAs are asked to supply schools with materials.


Unsurprisingly, the number of employees has far outpaced the rate of student enrollment in the past six years. With full implementation of a more dramatic early years’ class-size reduction, a noteworthy increase in teachers will be part of the upcoming final changes.

2012 2017 Change
Students 1,043,536 1,102,282 5.6%
Administrators 3,884 4,794 23.4%
Teachers & Certificated 60,365     68,577 13.6%
Classified Employees     36,200     41,339 14.2%
TOTAL 1,143,985 1,216,992 14.2%


Salary of employees

2012 2020* Change
Administrators $60,466 $107,534 77.8%
Teachers & Certificated $52,260 $72,694 39.1%
Classified Employees $36,200 $51,935 43.5%

* Source, pg. 22.

When the compensation piece is implemented, the average state provision for teacher salaries will increase from $52,260 in 2011-12 to $72,694 in the 2019-20 school year – a 39 percent increase in average teacher salary.

Provision for the state portion of administrator salaries is estimated to average $107,534, up from a rough average of $60,466 provided in 2012 – a 78 percent increase in administrator salaries, but one that more closely matches actual wages.

Classified employees will see state wage increases to an average of $51,935 when in 2012 they roughly averaged $31,406 – a 44 percent increase.

Special Programs

In addition to the increases in the base provision for operations, the identified special programs also received noteworthy increases.

Special Education services have been funded at roughly double the per-student funding for 12.7 percent of students, but now it will be for 13.5 percent of students.

The Learning Assistance Program which provides supplemental services to students who are not meeting academic standards has been enhanced from an assumed 1.5 hours per week of supplemental services in a class of 15 students to 2.4 hours of services. An addition allocation for an assumed 1.1 hours of service is funded for high-poverty schools.

The Transitional Bilingual Instructional Program, which helps students gain English Language proficiency, has also been enhanced by increasing the assumed hours of service and years of eligibility for these services.

The number of students who are eligible for extra services because they are identified by districts as “highly capable” will double from 2.3 percent of all students to 5 percent.

The provision for Career and Technical Education has been enriched with smaller class sizes and resources for materials.

SECOND, the Legislature has taken brave steps to restore equity


Among the concerns raised by the Supreme Court is the disparity of resources between districts with high-value property and those with low-value. Students in Seattle Public Schools have been funded at $12,665 per student while taxpayers there pay $1.20 per $1,000 of property value.

Meanwhile, in the Richland School District, students are funded at $9,514 per student while taxpayers there pay $3.31 per $1,000 of property value.

The state has historically attempted a weak fix to this problem by funding a “Local Effort Assistance” program that adds state funds to the Richland School District. But the roughly $350 per student this provides has done little to balance the inequity between Richland and Seattle.

The Legislature’s decision to reduce local school operating levy property taxes to no more than $1.50 per $1,000 while adding a uniform state property tax rate of approximately 80 cents per $1,000 seeks to restore equity.

Ending union manipulation creating unequal compensation

Formerly some districts had different pay schedules as a grandfathered provision in law, but mostly as a result of union pressure to divert levy funds to wage enhancement. This resulted in some districts using more than a third of their levy to add to teacher wages while adding no additional services.

In some districts, the union-sought inequity would also suppress wages for young teachers, spike pensions for the most senior and even make it possible for senior teachers to be paid twice as much as new teachers for the same responsibilities.

In addition to capturing discretionary local funds for salaries, the union also seeks to pressure school boards to divert these funds for benefit enhancements.

The legislative solution of providing local levy tax relief also included an effort to prevent the unions from accessing local levies for these payroll issues. Local districts are not allowed to supplement salary with the levy money. A short video by Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal explains what is new regarding collective bargaining as a result of the new laws. In it he explains that the new policy ends the practice of unions getting levy-funded pay raises.

The new state property tax will let the state average provision for teacher salaries increase from the 2016-17 average of $54,512 to over $72,000 by 2020. The new state law will also create a statewide health benefit system that should take benefit management off of the bargaining table.

The new bargaining agreements have the potential to actually free up money to enhance services.

So while districts might have a reduced levy total and the state property tax increases, districts also have relief from the largest unfunded mandates the Legislature has ever afflicted school districts with – allowing unions to cannibalize services by striking unless they receive levy-funded salary enhancements.

The districts’ loss of the ability to enhance wages is partially made feasible by the Legislature’s decision to adjust salaries based upon the cost of living in different areas. Rather than wages varying by union negotiating pressure or complicit school boards, the state seeks regional salary enhancements from the state based upon documented cost of housing issues.

The regional cost-of-living adjustment also mitigates the tax increases in the property rich areas. While their share of taxation for schools increases under the proposal, their employees’ wages are also disproportionately enhanced.

THIRD, will services improve?

We could double the wages of all employees overnight, and what students experience would remain unchanged the next day. The point of education is not what is spent, but the services provided.

Academic results since the McCleary decision are relatively unchanged even though the provision has enhanced about 40 percent by now. This is not surprising, since results come from services, not from money.

Third grade reading – how many students perform above the minimum acceptable proficiency?

11-12   68%
12-13   73%
13-14   72%
14-15   52% (note: the assessment changed)
15-16   54%
16-17   53%

Seventh grade math – how many students perform above the minimum proficiency?

11-12   59%
12-13   64%
13-14   58%
14-15   48%
15-16   50%
16-17   50%

Four year graduation – how many students receive a diploma after four years?

11-12   77%
12-13   77%
13-14   76%
14-15   77%
15-16   78%
16-17   79%


The Legislature did make some identifiable service changes in their adoption of the various laws to satisfy the obligation to fully fund education.

Full-day kindergarten is now provided for all students when at the time of McCleary, it was only half-days and was not a part of basic education.

K-3 class size is slated to be reduced a noteworthy amount – with class sizes of 17 envisioned.

Instructional hours for 9-12 up from 1,000 to 1,080 to give us the 24 credit.

The funding model provides for – but does not require – various other service enhancements such as those described for Learning Assistance Program, English Learners, Special Education, and Highly Capable. Other staffing enhancements suggest that services are more likely such as the addition of more middle school counselors and parent involvement coordinators.

But… The time spent on schooling is essentially unchanged.

School is still only 180 loosely defined days. The enhanced salaries are still only assuming the same level of services. By 2020, the Legislature will have doubled the spending, but students will be served the same number of days, the same kinds of classes and mostly the same class sizes.

The state stepped up and funded three days of professional development, so districts could stop the disruptive practice of twenty, thirty or even forty-nine partial school days.

With the addition of funds for professional development days, the state attempted to enhance the services to students by allowing no more than seven disrupted school days.

But the union wanted the wage money without giving back the partial school days, so they asked Gov. Jay Inslee to veto the requirement, which he did.

Smoke and mirrors hide whether students in special programs are getting new services.

On paper, the new funding assumes supplemental services for students not meeting academic expectations in the Learning Assistance Program and English Learners are all enhanced. Will those students still receive the same number of hours of service as those students who don’t have the $1,000 to $2,000 of additional funding?

More smoke and mirrors hide the softness of the 24 credit change.  

Districts are now adopting 24 or more credits as a graduation requirement, but the definition of a credit was eliminated, so we are mostly seeing mostly a dilution of the meaning of “credit.”

Funding was provided for another 80 hours in high school, but does this show up in a different bell schedule in schools? Have we noticed a real difference in high school learning time? The new 80 hours is enough time to add 12 days of school or 26 minutes each day. Is it being done?

No expansion of the options families have to get customized services.

More education options improves the chances that students can get their needs met. The new education funding changes had the chance to energize boutique services or to find efficiencies by specializing. Instead, the clunky “prototypical schools model” puts the “one-size-fits-all” approach into concrete like some soviet factory.

No end to the disruption caused by perennial employee strikes.

Another aspect of the Legislature’s failure to correct weak services is the ongoing wink and nod to the union to continue disrupting the state’s paramount duty when it serves the self-interest of employees to do so.Why does the self-interest of an employee organization get to disrupt schools in Seattle, Spokane, Pasco at the union’s whim?

The Supreme Court has been firm with the Legislature about the paramount duty. The Legislature gets a daily penalty for its reluctance in funding services on time. Unions should get daily penalties for delaying the delivery of those services.

Why has this aspect of service been ignored if we really want the families of the state to have education services as the highest priority?

As I pointed out in a Policy Highlighter [link to PH] when the McCleary decision was first announced, these critical issues could have been addressed if lawmakers took the opportunity to springboard to a school system which made services to families the highest priority.

But six years later, the monopoly school system still appears to be about programs, employees, buildings and wages with the hope that learning will happen if these elements of the machine are well funded. Students need services, not a well-funded machine. Perhaps both will happen, but very few clear guarantees are offered in the recent work of the Legislature.

FOURTH: What’s next? The Legislature should…

Hold the line on special-interest pressure.

  • The rich regions are going to want to have their disproportionate share of state money restored like in the good old days.
  • The union is going to want to return to a system restoring their power to secure raises from both the state and the local school boards.
  • A host of focused single-issue interests ranging from highly capable program advocates to administrator salaries are going to downplay the amazing gains made and try to grab a last fistful of dollars before the Supreme Court releases jurisdiction.

If the Legislature doesn’t hold the line regarding the tax equity issue and against the union demand to grab local levies as wage enhancements, Washington will have another “McCleary” in 20 years or so.

Senior Policy Analyst
Jami Lund is the Freedom Foundation’s Senior Policy Analyst. From 2004 to 2011, he developed legislative policy as a research analyst for the Washington House Republican Caucus. Prior to that he worked for the Freedom Foundation as the Project Manager for the Teachers Paycheck Protection project, shepherding the development of the Foundation’s landmark U.S. Supreme Court case to protect teacher rights. Jami is an accomplished speaker and researcher, one of Washington state’s top scholars on education policy and finance.