Seattle's Child

Your guide to a kid-friendly city

School funding accountability

Erin MacDougall (left) and Alex Wakeman Rouse help lead the group All Together for Seattle Schools. Photo by Joshua Huston

We must hold the state accountable for adequate school funding

Why we are 'All Together for Seattle Schools'

It’s an uncomfortable, deeply concerning truth: Our public schools are facing dire financial straits.

Our administrators, educators, and special support staff are stretched thin, expected to do more than ever before but with fewer staff. Due to the lasting impact of the pandemic, our students bring high needs at levels never seen before. As parents and as graduates of Seattle Public Schools (SPS) ourselves, we are deeply invested in urging Washington state to adequately fund K-12 education—so that our schools receive the funding our state constitution supposedly guarantees.

An investment in the future

Amply funded public schools benefit all of us. Educating the students of today is an investment in our state’s collective future. It shapes engaged residents who will one day lead our communities and contribute meaningfully to the world. It provides every child with opportunities to succeed.

It’s not just SPS that’s facing an insurmountable budget crisis; it’s school districts across the state. In 2023, deficits were $131 million in Seattle, $21 million in Northshore, $16 million in Spokane, $15 million in Edmonds, $10 million in Tacoma, and $5 million on Bainbridge Island. These deficits are expected to continue. Recent decreases in enrollment and the ending of federal pandemic-related aid are just part of the problem. And even if enrollment increases, the current way the state funds education will not meet students’ needs. Unfunded mandates and an outdated school-funding model are leaving districts in a structural budget crisis.

Struggling to meet unfunded mandates

For example, special education funding is one of the largest unfunded mandates that school districts across the state are forced to address on their own dime. Washington state should be fully funding special education. However, the state funds special education services at a rate that is far short of the actual cost of providing those services. In Seattle, state and federal funding provides only half of the $250 million SPS spends on special education. It is morally reprehensible that the state does not fully fund these services.

Also, the overall costs of providing education have gone up, and for good reason. It is our moral obligation to pay educators a living wage, especially in our expensive region. Again, the state fails to provide districts with sufficient funding to meet the actual costs of educating our kids.

Others agree that Washington does not sufficiently fund our schools. The Education Law Center recently gave Washington a grade C for funding level, an F for funding distribution, and an F for funding effort. 

Use the state’s revenue surplus for schools

In December, leaders from 17 Washington school districts sent a letter to State Legislators proposing solutions to address district budget deficits. One solution is that the legislature uses the state’s current $1.2 billion revenue surplus to help eliminate public school deficits. We think their leadership is bold and necessary for the urgency of this current moment.

In Seattle, the school board passed a Fiscal Stabilization Plan that outlines proposed actions the district may consider to balance next year’s budget. Families should look closely at this plan, which directs the district to “research and consider” significant student-related cuts, including reductions in staff and program adjustments. The plan envisions closing schools in 2025, even though SPS administrators have said that doing so would not solve the budget deficit. Closing schools has serious, long-lasting impacts on students and should be a last resort.

‘We can do something’

It doesn’t have to be this way; we can do something about it. We know that underfunding our schools threatens the very essence of what education should be: a springboard to opportunity and equity for all kids. It’s up to us—parents, caregivers, school districts, educators, and community members—to demand that K-12 education receive adequate funding. We need to hold the state accountable to its constitutional obligation to fund our schools. And we urge districts not to make budget cuts prematurely.

With other Seattle parents, we formed All Together for Seattle Schools to help ensure that families can partner with SPS to find solutions. We strongly encourage everyone to urge the legislature to adequately fund K-12 education and to prevent districts’ budget cuts now. It is the right thing to do, as well as what the state constitution requires.

Erin MacDougall and Alex Wakeman Rouse are SPS graduates, parents, and leaders of All Together for Seattle Schools. Learn more at alltogetherforseattleschools.org.

Read more:

Enrollment woes in 3 districts keep closures on table

No Seattle school closure recommended for 2024-25

New parent coalition wants community input in SPS financial planning

Building a brighter future

 

About the Author

Erin MacDougall and Alex Wakeman Rouse