Breaking down WA Schools Funding Formula
How does the state calculate how much money to send to schools?
While the state distributed about $14,556 per student in 2019-20, according to federal data, there is not a one-to-one relationship between each student and that amount. Many factors go into the funding formula.
Student population size is an obvious part of the equation, but other factors include community poverty levels, special educational needs, and differences in the local cost of living that affect educator salaries, all of which may result in additional state funding.
Washington has created what it calls a “prototype model” for schools. The state provides funding that is calculated to be sufficient for a number of teachers, principals, librarians, teaching aides, nurses, and other staff based on the student population. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the agency that oversees K-12 public instruction in the state, then distributes money to districts based on what that endowment would be. minimum.
For example, for 400 students in pre-K-6 grades, a district would receive sufficient funding for 1.2 building administrators such as a principal or vice-principal, 0.6 librarians, 0.49 guidance counselors and 1.66 guards, among others. The model also asks for average student-teacher ratios, although these figures also take into account teachers outside of general education courses, such as physical education, art or music.
This model is often revised; for example, last year the legislature increased the number of school counselors and nurses considered part of basic education.
State money is also increased in areas of high poverty – where schools have to meet the additional needs of students – as well as in areas with higher costs of living, to help teachers and others school staff to pay to keep up with the cost of living in the communities where they work.
OSPI also allocates additional federal funds to districts with high levels of community poverty and funds grants for programs for English language learners or students enrolled in special education or needing other accommodations due to of a disability.
However, when districts get the money — from all those sources — it’s up to local school boards and administrators to figure out exactly how to spend it. Districts set school and class sizes, determine the number of principals and administrators in each building, and how much to pay teachers, superintendents, and other staff—at pay rates often above set salary levels by the state, to assist districts with recruitment and retention.
District operating levies can fill funding gaps to reduce class sizes, increase salaries for superintendents or teachers, add school counselors or nurses, or provide after-school tutoring programs to help improve academic achievement. However, districts still spend a portion of their operations levying money on special education staff or meeting other learning needs—expenses that the state budget considers covered by the state and federal dollars – instead of improving their “basic education” programs.