Statement on Washington State Legislature's 2017 Action on Tacoma Public Schools Budget Outlook

8/15/2017 | TACOMA, Washington

Read about the district's proposed 2017-2018 budget; take our budget survey

We appreciate the attempt by the 2017 Washington State Legislature to address its Constitutional and Supreme Court-mandated requirement "to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders."

Despite rhetoric that the Legislature’s action had improved education funding for our state’s children, our analysis clearly shows the opposite.

Due to multiple funding formula changes, new mandates for how school districts can spend state monies and elimination of flexibility for spending local voter-approved levies, Tacoma will receive less money per student in education funding beginning in 2018. The effects of this lost funding will compound year after year.

This decline in funding plus lost flexibility to spend money on innovative programs and initiatives that have boosted Tacoma’s academic improvements and graduation rate over the last 10 years has the potential to negatively impact Tacoma student achievement.

Moving forward, we join with Seattle Public Schools and other school districts that have identified the harmful impacts of the Legislature’s action to immediately begin rectifying the inequities when the Legislature reconvenes in January 2018. To Tacoma Public Schools, the new funding formulas and limits take a big step backward from the State Supreme Court’s mandate in the well-known McCleary Lawsuit requiring the Legislature to fully fund education.

Tacoma Public Schools would have a better financial future if the Legislature had not made any changes in the funding formula for education. Tacoma Public Schools will not be able to continue all existing, effective programs under the new state formula.

For the upcoming school year’s proposed budget, which the Tacoma School Board will review, discuss and vote on this month, Tacoma plans to use $5 million in reserves to pay for ongoing expenses—an unsustainable practice—and institute a selective hiring freeze for positions outside the classroom.

In February 2018, Tacoma Public Schools also must place on the ballot for voters the renewals of two levies—for maintenance and operations and technology—which voters approved in 2014. Despite new restrictions on how much Tacoma can ask from voters and new restrictions on how Tacoma can spend those monies, local voter support has never been more critical.

Our conservative analysis below shows that, even if Tacoma voters approve the full levy in February, Tacoma will lose $151 per student beginning in the 2018-2019 school year, $121 per student in 2019-2020 and $154 per student in 2020-2021.

Graphic - Impacts of New State Funding FormulaAll along, the stated intention of the Legislature and the Supreme Court’s decision was to add new money to improve education across the state—not reduce it.   An added concern is the inequity of Tacoma Public Schools, the state’s largest high poverty district, losing funding.

These elements of the new Legislative funding formula pose the greatest problems:

  • The limitation on the amount of local voter-approved levies and the requirements to spend the funding on state-directed expenses. Over the past four years, Tacoma voters provided $86 million a year in local levy support for innovative programs greatest possible positive impact for Tacoma’s children. In the future, the state limited the local levy amount to approximately $33 million per year and limits the use of the funds in a way that directs the district on how it must spend the money. Those changes take away critical local control and the ability to meet local needs. The Tacoma School Board knows best what our students need to succeed.
  • Elimination of the state salary schedule with instructions to all school districts to collectively bargain how teachers are paid. In the past, the state provided a structure based on seniority and provided funding to local school districts based on the seniority level of its specific teacher workforce. Under the state’s new methodology, it eliminated the salary schedule and provides each school district in a region the same average dollar amount per teacher—regardless of the seniority make-up of its teacher workforce. For a district like Tacoma, with a more experienced teacher workforce than other districts, we will lose money to pay teachers. The state has consistently criticized districts for “giving away the farm” at the bargaining table and has now placed all these problems in the laps of local school districts to collectively bargain with their local teachers’ union

Despite the future uncertainty, Tacoma Public Schools will present its proposed 2017-2018 school year budget to the School Board August 17.   The Board will then consider using $5 million of reserves for the ongoing expenses with a vote for acceptance of the budget August 24.  The School Board will take public comment on the proposed budget at both meetings.