School funding in Washington

School funding in Washington is different from many states, with specific salary directives set by the Legislature and local districts committing to the additional staff, program and contract requirements needed to ensure your children have quality schools.

Where do local schools get their money?

Public schools in Washington rely primarily on money from the state of Washington, federal funds for specific needs, and local levy and bond collections.

State lawmakers set school funding levels during each winters legislative session. School districts have limited taxing authority, through local levies and bond issues. Local taxes are intended to supplement state funds, not replace them. Local taxes also must meet a supermajority requirement of 60 percent yes to win approval and there is a limit on how much a school district can collect.

State Funding Overview: What is the state''s responsibility?

The foundation for Washington''s public schools is established in the state constitution, Article IX

  • Section 1. "It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex."
  • Section 2. "The Legislature shall provide a general and uniform system of public schools . . . and such . . . normal and technical schools as may hereafter be established."

Washington''s school finance system is a legislative response to three court decisions interpreting the "paramount duty" clause of the state constitution. These court decisions, in 1977, 1983 and 1988 described the state's duty under the constitution.

Seattle Lawsuit -- Doran I

After a levy failure in 1976, the Seattle School District sued the state alleging that the state was not meeting its constitutional duty to make ample provision for education. On Jan. 14, 1977 Judge Doran issued a declaratory judgment finding that:

  • State funding was insufficient to fund a basic program of education; and
  • The Legislature must define and fully fund a program of basic education through regular and dependable tax sources, and could not rely on local excess levies for that funding.

Doran II and IIB Decisions

Subsequent decisions by Judge Doran expanded and clarified the state''s responsibility for basic education. The 1983 decision included the following categorical programs with the state''s basic responsibilities:

  • Special Education
  • Bilingual Education
  • Remediation (LAP)
  • Pupil Transportation (some students)

The 1988 decision:

  • Generally supported state funding for special education based on averages;
  • Concluded that some form of "safety net" was needed to supplement special education funding for districts demonstrating need.

Funding Principles

The funding formula is not cast in concrete; it is the continuing obligation of the Legislature to review, define and fund basic education. The state does not reimburse school districts for expenses; rather the state provides revenues to school districts based on funding formulas designed to provide equitable funding.


Certificated Staff -- teachers, counselors, specialists and others -- are typically compensated as follows:

  • Base Contract -- Tied to state funding schedule.
  • Supplemental Contracts -- for any work outside the regular student school day.

The state assumes no responsibility for supplemental contracts. These are typically funded from local levies.

Why do some districts get more state funding than others?

  • Salary base differences.
  • Different levels of staff experience and education.
  • Low test scores affect LAP funding.
  • Levy Equalization funding.
  • Different levels of students participating in:
  • Bilingual Programs
  • Special Education
  • Vocational Education
  • Transportation

Initiative 728

Passed overwhelmingly by voters in November 2000, I-728 money may be used to:

  • Reduce class size
  • Extend learning opportunities
  • Provide professional training for educators
  • Offer early assistance for Pre-K students
  • Improve or add to school facilities that are directly related to class size

Initiative 732

Passed overwhelmingly by voters in November 2000, I-732 required the state to provide annual cost-of-living increases so that salaries for Washington''s public school employees would keep up with inflation. The initiative came in response to years of neglect for education funding by state lawmakers, including one stretch leading up to the initiative in which public school employees were granted no salary increases four out of six years in a row. In 2003, lawmakers suspended the inflation increases guaranteed by Initiative 732.