We’re a point of great change in how “basic education” is delivered to the children of Washington state.

The Washington State Constitution says clearly that delivering a consistent, high quality “basic education” to our kids is the “paramount duty” of the state government. And I agree with that.

The critical question is: What’s the best way to deliver that “basic education”?

For years, as series of lawsuits focused on how taxes are collected to pay for “basic education”—which most education professionals define as Kindergarten to High School graduation. (I agree with that definition.) The main lawsuit that drove those funding questions was the so-called “McCleary” case. While some fine points on those issues remain, Washington’s courts have generally agreed that the tax questions raised by the “McCleary” case have been resolved by the legislature.

While all that tax work was going on, the mechanics of how tax money—once collected—is spent on K-12 schools has been largely ignored. That’s a problem, because many smaller School Districts are suffering under the broken system of school spending that we have.

Right now, the main mechanism that Washington’s state government uses to send operating funds to School Districts is an excessively complicated budget formula called the “prototypical school” model.

Frankly, this budget model was developed by education bureaucrats from the Puget Sound area—and it favors larger school districts over smaller ones. It uses a silly formula that budgets teachers and non-teacher staff (counselors, teacher assistants, nurses, bus drivers, custodians, etc.) based on the number of kids attending school in each district. In many cases, it only budgets a fraction of a position—half a counselor, a third of a nurse—to smaller schools.

Most education professionals agree that the “prototypical school” budget model is outdated and doesn’t work. The debate is whether the model and can be reformed and improved—or needs to be thrown out entirely and replaced with a new budget system. I’m open to the reform arguments but, at this point, I lean more to the throw-it-out-and-replace-it side of the debate.

I think we should come up with a new school district budget model that provides a basic level of staff functions for every school district, no matter how small, and then adds money on a simple basis per each student enrolled in each district. Also, that simple “per student” amount could “follow the student” as he or she moves around the state…or changes the sort of education she or he is pursuing.

Finally, there are two other points that we need to consider when we talk about education policy in Washington.

  • The recent focus on tax policy and school district budgets has subtly begun a drift of control over education from local, elected school boards to unelected bureaucrats at the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. This is a bad drift. Local school boards need to keep as much control as possible over the curriculums and textbooks they choose, the administrators they hire or fire, the teacher and staff mixes they use. That local control is essential! And it’s one of the reasons I oppose Referendum 90, which would overturn Senate Bill 5395—the “Comprehensive Sexual Education” scheme that moves curriculum control away from local, elected school boards.
  • The COVID outbreak of 2020 has sped up a pre-existing trend among many Washington families to choose to home-school their kids. The state’s education policy needs to recognize this trend. As I mention above, replacing the unfair “prototypical school” budget model with a new system that uses a simpler “per student” allocation of state education funds would make it easier for families to use that “per student” money in support of home-school programs, charter schools, education “pods” or mini-schools, conventional private schools…or whatever version of “basic education” the family chooses. I support expanding those options for Washington