Frequently Asked Questions
Funding for education in the state of Washington is complicated. This page is intended to help answer some of the basic questions about how schools receive the money needed to serve our students. Funds for schools come from three main sources:
- 1.State funding for basic education,
- 2.Bonds, and
The state of Washington is required to supply school districts with state funding for “basic education.” Outside of state funding, schools may receive money for facilities, programs, and services from voter-approved bonds and levies. Because the funding provided by the state does not cover the actual costs to operate schools, districts often utilize bonds and levies to help bridge the gap.
Keep reading to learn more about how Washington’s schools receive funding and why local, voter-approved bond and levy measures are critical to funding education.
Q: What is the difference between a bond and levy?
A: The easiest way to remember the difference between a bond and a levy is: Bonds are for building and levies are for learning. Bonds and levies provide schools with funds that must be used for specific purposes.
A Levy is a local property tax passed by the voters of a school district that generates revenue to fund programs and services that the state does not pay for as part of basic education. Because the funding provided by the state does not cover the actual costs to operate schools, districts often use levy funds to hire additional staff, or for student programming and services that are underfunded or not funded by the state. Some of the many things that levies help to fund may include: extracurricular activities, special education, transportation, food service, operations, grounds and maintenance, preschool, and other activities.
Educational Programs and Operations (EP&O) levies (formerly called Maintenance and Operations levies) allow a school district to provide things like teachers, support staff, supplies and materials, or services that the state only partially funds.
A replacement levy is the renewal of an existing school levy that is about to expire. Typically, if a district is asking for a replacement levy to be approved by voters, it means that it is simply the continuation of an existing tax.
A Bond is a long-term investment that authorizes the district to purchase property for schools, construct new schools, or modernize existing schools. Bonds are sold to investors who are repaid with interest over time from property tax collections, generally between 12-20 years.
Q: How are bonds and levies approved?
A: Both bonds and levies require voter approval, but in Washington bonds require a higher majority of voter approval than levies. Bonds require a supermajority to pass (60%). Levies require a simple majority to pass (50% + 1).
Q: What is a levy rate?
A: A levy rate is the amount of property tax per $1,000 of assessed property value to fund a voter approved levy amount. A levy rate of $1.00 means that for every $1,000 of property value, the owner of the property will have to pay $1.00 in taxes.
In Waitsburg School District, the proposed EP&O Levy tax rate is $3.50, beginning in 2021. See the table below for a complete look at the estimated tax rates.
|Collection Year||Estimated Levy Rate/ $1,000 Assessed Value||Levy Amount|
Tax rates are per $1,000 assessed property value.
* NOTE: Washington State set a limit on the dollar amount a district may run for a levy (known as the “levy lid”). Currently, levy rates are capped at $2.50 and may mean that Waitsburg’s projected tax rate will decrease.
Q: How often can school districts run levies?
A: Voters can approve an EP&O levy for up to four years. Waitsburg School District typically runs two-year levies. After the allotted number of years, the levy expires. Districts typically then go back to their voters and ask for a continuation, replacement, or enrichment levy.
Q: Is there a tax break for senior citizens?
A: Yes! Washington State law provides two tax benefit programs for senior citizens and individuals who are disabled: property tax exemptions and property tax deferrals. For more information on qualifications, please contact the Walla Walla County Assessor’s Office at 509-524-2560, or the Columbia County Assessor at 509-382-2131
STATE FUNDING QUESTIONS
Q: Do all public schools receive state funding?
A: Yes, but the amount that districts receive varies based on a number of factors.
For example: Enrollment, regional cost of living differences, poverty rates, and the number of special needs or non-English speaking students are all factors in the amount of state funding a district receives. Most districts also receive additional federal funding, which is mostly determined by levels of poverty and special needs populations within a district.
Q: Didn’t Washington schools already receive money from the state because of the McCleary decision?
A: Yes, but the funding does not cover the actual costs of operating a school district. The Washington State Supreme Court decision on the McCleary lawsuit resulted in public school districts seeing a net funding increase in 2018. Even though the state increased the amount of funding it was providing to school districts, it also capped the amount of funding school districts can raise from local levies. The Legislature also applied restrictions to how funding can be used. For local school districts, this means that levies have been significantly impacted, causing widespread confusion in communities across the state.
Q: What are “state match dollars”?
A: Many school districts can qualify for additional financial assistance from the state of Washington to help build or modernize facilities. The state determines the amount of square footage that each student needs (the amounts are different for elementary, middle, and high schools) and assigns a dollar amount per square foot based on current average construction cost estimates. Both new construction and remodeling projects can be eligible for state assistance. While these matching funds are helpful for bond projects, only a limited percentage of actual costs are typically covered using this formula, leaving the rest of the cost to the school district and the local community (via a bond or capital levy).