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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

Each year, as summer comes to a close, students head back into the classroom. My husband is a retired teacher. He worked for over 33 years as a high school instructor. Teaching is tough but rewarding. It’s exciting to see children learn and develop skills that will carry them through life’s challenges. While funding alone cannot provide students with improved learning outcomes, it creates a foundation that helps make better opportunities possible.

Our state’s funding of K-12 education has been the subject of controversy, confusion and even lawsuits. Exactly how are our schools funded? The answer may not be as complicated as you think.

School funding

School funding is a blend of federal, state, and local dollars. Federal money, less than 8% of the total, often targets low-income students or other distinct groups. Local funding largely comes from property tax levies. Voter approved levies can help defray the costs for various special programs, school supplies, and in past years—teacher and staff salaries.

More than 70% of school district funding comes from the state. The money allocated is based on a formula designed to fund basic education across all the schools in Washington. The formula accounts for a range of differences, such as localities and variances in student populations. 

Is there a problem with K-12 funding? 

For many years, the needs of schools and students changed, but the dollars supplied by the state didn’t keep up. This forced local school districts to raise the money they needed, primarily for staff and teacher salaries, through local property tax levies. 

In 2012, the State Supreme Court heard a case you may be familiar with known as McCleary v. Washington State. The court decided the state, not local school districts, should cover the costs of basic education—including funding for staff and teacher salaries. 

For more information and details on K-12 education funding, here’s the Citizen’s Guide to Washington State K-12 Finance. 

The Legislature agreed. It’s our state’s paramount duty to amply fund public education. I’m happy to report that priority is now clearly reflected in our state’s budget. Since 2012, the Legislature has approved dramatic increases for K-12 education funding.

Take a look at the chart below. During the 2011-13 budget cycle, we spent $13.4 billion on K-12 education. That amount has now been doubled to $26.5 billion. 

What’s next for K-12 education?

During the 2019 session, the Legislature approved some necessary changes to the state’s cost multiplier for special needs students. The operating budget now includes $155 million more for special education funding. However, some school districts still lack adequate resources for special needs students. In the upcoming session, I fully expect more conversations about this topic. Lawmakers need to ensure that the needs of students with disabilities are fully met.  

School Safety

Few tragedies produce the level of public outcry that occurs than after an incident of school violence. Students need and deserve a safe learning environment. We must do more to protect them.

In 2019, lawmakers approved a non-firearm related measure to improve school safety and student well-being. House Bill 1216 establishes Regional School Safety Centers across the state. The centers are tasked with developing model safety procedures and policies to help school districts meet certain school safety requirements. 

Senate Bill 5082, also signed into law this year, promotes and expands social and emotional learning. This training will help students gain the skills needed to make positive decisions, interact well with others and problem solve.

These changes are a good start! Going forward, we should carefully consider more options, including legislation related to school safety officers, funding for structural or technology enhancements, and further expanding mental health services in schools.

Career and Technical Education (CTE)

In the past, a great deal of emphasis has been placed on sending high school graduates to college. Schools often use college enrollment as a measure of success. Fortunately, it’s becoming clearer to lawmakers that college is not necessarily the best path for everyone. I believe that when done well, CTE programs can boost both academics and future wages for students.  

House Bill 1424, signed into law in 2019, expands the equivalencies districts can offer through statewide Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses along with consistency for academic credit across the state. CTE is good news for our state’s future prosperity. In the upcoming session, I plan to support efforts to develop more programs across our state. I’d also like to add there are plenty of volunteer opportunities for technical professionals with a passion to help students learn. Contact your local school district and find out how you can help!

Stay in touch!

As always, I encourage you to contact my office via email, telephone, letter or in person with your thoughts, comments and questions. My contact information is below.

It’s an honor to serve as your state representative.


Carolyn Eslick

State Representative Carolyn Eslick, 39th Legislative District
436 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(425) 327-2093 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000