Where the Money Comes From
School districts receive most money from state, then local levy dollars
Schools in the State of Washington get their operating revenue from five primary resources: state apportionment, local levy, state categorical, federal funds and fees for district programs.
State general funds
State apportionment, or state general purpose funding, provides the largest portion, 55.3 percent, of Cascade School District's general fund revenue. The amount is determined by the number of students attending our schools and a series of formula factors. Those factors include legislatively-set base salaries, employee benefits and non-labor allocations. The collective education and experience of our teachers also affect the apportionment, since the state will provide a higher amount for teachers with more education and/or more experience.
Educational programs and operations levy
The local property tax levy provides 20.1 percent of total general budgeted revenues. These levy amounts are capped by the legislature: the district cannot raise more money than the limit even when your property value rises or even if the community wanted to raise the money for schools. The legislature limits levy amounts to no more than 28% of non-federal funding. Levies must be approved by Cascade School District voters at a special election from one to six years. Cascade has chosen to run M&O levies for four years at slightly less than 24% of its non-federal funding to be conservative and fiscally responsible.
State designated funds
State dollars that are earmarked for specific categories provide 14.8 percent of budgeted revenues. These funds must be used for specific categories such as special education, pupil transportation, English Language Learner education, learning assistance, student achievement and education enhancements. Most of these revenues are given for a specific program and are not available for other purposes.
Money from the federal government comprises 7.1 percent of district revenues. These dollars fund such programs as Head Start and Title I (educational enhancements to improve achievement of low-income children). They also provide supplemental funding for special education programs and support free and reduced price lunches in the food service program. These revenues also may only be used for their specific program purpose.
The district generates 2.2 percent of its own revenue by charging fees for programs such as pre-school. This category includes revenue from sales of school lunches and investment interest earnings.
Other school district or agencies
Payments from other districts for participation in joint programs, grants from other non-state agencies and transfers from Capital Levy for Technology Training & Applications accounts for 0.5 percent of budgeted revenues.
Where the Money Goes
Spending is focused on the classroom
Classroom expenses are Cascade School District's budget priority. That's where children spend most of their school day and where learning happens. So most of your tax dollars go there directly.
Direct classroom support
Money that directly supports what happens in the classroom draws over 80 percent of the district's budget - 82.6 to be exact. This line item includes: salaries and benefits for teachers and instructional assistants; teaching supplies, materials and textbooks; salaries and benefits for counselors and libraries; special education and related services; staff development/curriculum development; and the costs maintaining, cleaning, insuring, and providing technology support to school buildings.
Indirect classroom support
Other support that keeps schools going represents 9.4 percent of the district's budget. This item includes: school support costs (secretaries, office supplies), transportation, food services, student activities and athletics.
District administration makes up 8.0 percent of the budget. This section includes: the superintendent and central office; business and human resources; liability insurance; utility costs for administrative buildings, maintenance and technology support.
School Funding - how it works
Ever wonder how school funding is decided at the state level? Or why there seems to be enough money for new buildings but not for supplies or needed staff positions? The answer lies in the state of Washington's school funding system.
The Basic Education Act, passed in 1977, defines formulas used to fund basic education for students in Washington state and thus what the state will pay for. Local levies were supposed to pay for extras - enhancements that local taxpayers wanted above and beyond the basics.
Funding for operations is capped
Basic education funding from the state, otherwise known as state general funding, provides 55.3 percent of the budget for the district.
Different elements of the system were put into place so that access to education remained relatively equal across the state: a student in a poor area would not receive an education substantially worse than a student in a rich area. As a result, districts are limited in how much money they can raise through local levies.
Those local educational support & operation (EP&O) - (formerly the maintenance & operation/M&O) levy dollars come from local property taxes that provide additional money for school operating funds. These dollars are intended to provide for the extra staffing or programming beyond basic education. In recent years, they have come to be used for things that most people expect schools to offer. For example, the state funds five periods in high schools but students need at least six periods to get the mix of core and elective classes that prepare them for college entrance. The local levy dollars pay for teachers, textbooks and the cost of keeping school buildings open among other items. It's about 20.1 percent of the Cascade School District general operating budget.
Increasingly, state dollars are provided through what are called state categorical funds, those earmarked for specific purposes such as special education, transportation and English Language Learner education. These dollars are not available for other purposes.
Federal dollars are relatively few: just over seven percent of the district's operating budget comes from the federal government. That money is also earmarked for specific purposes, such as Head Start, educational support for low-income students and support for free and reduced price lunches.
If state general funds, state earmarked funds and local levy dollars do not cover the costs of running a school district, there are few legal options for the district to raise more money. It can charge fees for some programs, like extended day, athletics or school lunches. But the ability to charge more money is also limited: students are guaranteed a free education.
Money for building schools and buying big ticket items (buses, technology) is raised through separate ballot measures such as capital levies and bonds. These dollars can only be spent on that specific purpose. They can't be transferred to the general operating fund to pay for something else. So we can't, for example, decide to use the money from the proposed technology/safety levy earmarked for new computers to pay for more teachers: that would be illegal. We also can't decide to use the money set aside for modernizing schools to pay for anything in the general operating budget, like staffing, supplies or textbooks. Annual state audits look for misuse of levy funding and report directly to the State Attorney General's Office.
Since Basic Education was defined in 1979, the world and the requirements for K-12 education have changed. Schools are held accountable for their performance through state-defined Common Core Standards. They must adhere to the new Every Student Succeeds Act enacted by Congress.
At the same time, Washington's national ranking for per pupil funding has dropped to 42nd in the country. Washington also has the nation's fifth-largest class sizes. If parents want smaller class sizes or more services and programs for their children, the additional money needed to pay for them would require action by the legislature.
A family with a last name of McCleary sued the legislature in 2012 for their failure to act in their paramount duty to amply fund basic education. The action went all the way to the State Supreme Court where the court supported the plaintiff in a decision known as the McCleary Decision. The legislature has until 2018 to fully fund K-12 basic education and was directed by the court to provide them with a plan to arrive at full funding; that includes less reliance on local levies. Unfortunately, the legislature has done very little to move toward adequately funding public education nor have they provided the court with an adequate plan to reach this goal.