From Stanwood-Camano School District
Last week, the Budget Update looked at some of the education bills in the state Legislature that may impact our finances. This week, we examine some of the common misconceptions and requirements when crafting a school district’s budget.
One of the common questions centers on the state Supreme Court’s ruling to fully fund basic education: Why are districts still struggling financially when we hear so much about extra funding?
While the intention was good, the state Legislature’s “McCleary Fix” caused school districts to face significant budget challenges. While the state made an additional investment in basic education, as required to fulfill the state’s paramount duty, the new funding model does not ensure consistent and equitable resources for all school districts and limits how districts can raise and spend local funds.
It is also important to note that the state does not fully fund the items defined as basic education, and that definition does not include many things that parents and teachers may assume are "basic." For example, the state funds a nurse at each elementary school for only about 1.5 days a week.
So, what is “basic education”?
The Constitution of the state of Washington, in Article IX, Section 1, states, “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, cast or sex.” The meanings of the words “paramount,” “ample,” “education” and “all” have been at the center of policy and legal debates in Washington for decades.
Defining “basic education” is the job of state lawmakers. But the state Legislature hasn’t yet come to a consensus on what basic education includes — and it can change year-to-year depending on legislative action and interpretation.
While school districts are working toward making adjustments to balance budgets, the state is still not fully funding the actual costs of education. In addition, the reduced amount the state is contributing to school district employee salaries means many districts don’t receive as much state funding to compensate long-serving staff with higher educational attainment.
Districts are also limited in how they spend in certain areas. For example,
Districts can’t use dollars set aside for capital projects or from selling land to fill general fund operational budget gaps
Federal dollars often come with strings attached and require spending in specific areas
Most state funding comes with limitations and stipulations, including K-3 class sizes requirements, and Physical, Social and Emotional Services (PSES).
How are districts across the state generally managing this situation?
They are spending down reserves, which is not a sustainable solution
They are gearing up for or already making significant budget cuts and staffing reductions
They are championing legislative changes through statewide associations
The bottom line is that a school district budget is not exactly like your household budget. There are a variety of regulations, limits, and constraints on how a district can raise funds, reduce expenditures, and balance budgets. Furthermore, the district is required to maintain a minimum amount in its General Fund, limiting how much it can dip into its savings.
Nonetheless, we plan to continue working with all parties throughout this budgeting process. We will communicate more financial updates as they become available in the coming weeks.