K-12 EDUCATION FACTS

2024

PUBLIC SCHOOLS

The Washington State Constitution makes clear that it is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for all children within its borders, regardless of race, color, caste, or sex.  The state provides funding for over one million students at 295 school districts and 18 charter schools.  School districts employ 74,000 certificated instructors (including teachers), nearly 44,000 classified employees, and over 5,000 administrators, making them one of the largest public employers in the state.  Including state, local, and federal resources, school districts receive an average of $18,354 per student.

ENROLLMENT

Public school enrollment peaked in 2018-19, prior to the prolonged school closures.  Since then, public school enrollment has declined by 3.2% and has yet to recover.  At the same time, there has been a 9.3% increase in private school enrollment and a 37% increase in estimated homeschool students, suggesting that families were not satisfied with the education they were receiving.

FUNDING

State spending on K-12 public schools has grown significantly, more than doubling over the past decade.  Funding K-12 education is primarily a state responsibility; however, taxpayers can authorize local enrichment levies to support their schools.  In 2017, lawmakers reduced local school enrichment levies leading to widespread property tax savings for many taxpayers.  However, in 2019, Democrats raised the local levy cap back to prior levels and have proposed bills in 2023 increasing the local levy cap even further.  While local enrichment levies are a necessary component of school funding, high local levies can create unconstitutional inequities among school districts and taxpayers.

Across state, local, and federal sources, school districts received $38.95 billion in the 2023-25 operating budget.  This equates to average total per student spending of $18,354, which puts Washington at the top of its peers in terms of state spending.  The majority of K-12 spending goes toward staff salaries for teachers, administrators, and classified employees.  While the state provides a competitive market rate salary allocation, actual salaries are determined through collective bargaining agreements between labor unions and school districts.  For the 2022-23 school year, the average administrator made $211,551 in salary and benefits, the average teacher made $134,913 in salary and benefits, and the average classified employee made $96,784 in salary and benefits.

PERFORMANCE

While the Legislature has spent years increasing funding to public schools, too many students have been left behind.  Student performance on national test scores has been trending down over the last decade and, after extensive school closures, state test scores are at their lowest since the state assessment began.  Over 60% of Washington students do not meet grade level standards in math and about half do not meet grade level standards in English language arts.  Moreover, the effects of the school closures disproportionately impacted students with the most need, widening preexisting opportunity and achievement gaps, and hitting historically disadvantaged students hardest.

The percentage of students not meeting grade level math and English language arts is especially concerning for students of color.  While Asian and White students outperform their peers across all test categories, less than 35% of Black and Hispanic students are passing English language arts and less than 23% are passing math.  Native Hawaiian, American Indian and Alaskan Native students are at an even greater disadvantage with about 25% passing English language arts and less than 16% passing math.  Only 23% of homeless students are passing English language arts and only 14% are passing math.  Low-income students also fare worse than their higher-income peers, with only 35% passing English language arts and 24% passing math.

While Washington students ranked in the top 10 a decade ago in both math and reading performance on national assessments, they now rank 27th in fourth grade math, 19th in fourth grade reading, 17th in eight grade math, and tied for 10th in eight grade reading.  While Washington test scores are on the decline, they are increasing rapidly in other states.  In 2013, Washington students outperformed Idaho students in all four test categories, but now Idaho students outperform Washington students in all categories except fourth grade reading.  Ten years ago, Mississippi was 49th in the country in fourth grade reading, now Mississippi students outrank Washington.

NATIONAL RANKINGS

Washington state pays some of the highest teacher salaries and benefits in the nation.  Washington ranks 2nd in the country for starting teacher salaries and 5th for average teacher salary.  In 2023, WalletHub released its ranking of the states with the best and worst school systems and continues to rank Washington as a high spending state with weak schools.  While Washington schools ranked 16th in government spending, they ranked 25th in overall school system.  Washington public schools rank behind Nebraska (7th), Florida (9th), Utah (12th), Kentucky (17th ), Wyoming (18th), and Montana (22nd).  And despite offering the most generous financial aid available in the country, Washington ranks near the bottom for students attending college within one year of graduating high school.

HOUSE REPUBLICAN SOLUTIONS

House Republicans believe school districts should be given resources to succeed, but should be held accountable to the students and communities they serve.  We have proposed a number of real solutions aimed to improve the quality and availability of basic education for all students.  We would fund tutors in schools and put more paraeducators in classrooms to deliver high-quality, personalized instruction because evidence shows that high-dosage tutoring is the most effective intervention to get students back on track in math and reading. In addition, House Republicans would put students first by allocating financial resources to students whose needs are not being met by the public school system.  Because we believe the state should fund students, not systems, and we recognize that our paramount duty to educate all children, regardless of race, color, caste, or sex.

Under Democrat control, K-12 spending has grown exponentially while student learning and performance has declined. Washington students deserve better.