Should you vote Yes or No on your local school levy?

Elementary School Kids
photo credit: photopin (license)

The following information is intended to help Clark County voters make an informed decision on whether local school funding levies should receive a Yes or No vote. Levies are on the ballots in the School districts for Camas, Evergreen, Green Mountain, Hockinson, LaCenter, Ridgefield, and Vancouver. Voting ends on Feb. 9th. As you consider how you will vote please consider the following questions:

  1. Do you believe your school district already has enough money to get the job done or needs more?
  2. Do you believe the school district is focusing on the right education objectives and using its money wisely?
  3. Do you think the State should fund education with little or no local funding required?
  4. Can you afford more taxes (and how much will your taxes change with a new levy)?
  5. Do you think that voting No sends a message about cost reduction or inappropriate use of funds which your school board and senior administrators would positively respond to?

Some voters may not believe they have sufficient information to answer these (or other) questions with enough comfort to vote. Most messaging about levies will be from “Pro” supporters who would have you vote Yes. They intend that you see what they see as positives while sidestepping any negatives. The same could be said about some of those against more school funding.

Background Information for our readers

Under the McCleary decision the State of Washington is required to provide basic education. In the 2015 session the state legislature added ~$1.3 billion to K-12 education funding. In coming years it’s projected they will add more money. Some say that to fully fund Washington state K-12 education the state needs to provide an additional $10 to $15 billion (this includes capital improvements and new construction).

Let’s start with the facts about K-12 funding for the last 22 years. Here is a link to a report from the WA State Legislature for the period 1993-2012.

In a US Census report issued in June 2015 they note that the average spending (nationally) was $10,700 per student with the low being $6,555 in Utah to a high of $19,818 in New York. [The data is through 2013]. We suggest readers use into this information, and other sources as needed, to see if increased spending has a correlation with state K-12 student performance.

Washington State is #15 in the U.S. in total educational spending. The complete breakdown can be found here.

Locally school districts have more teachers, support staff and administrators than paid for by the State. From an assessment (on file) conducted in 2015 (2014/2015 data) the following breakdown of “extra” personnel paid for through levies is shown in the table below:

School DistrictState Funded Certs (FTEs)Actual Certs (FTEs) in District% Certs paid for in the levy# Certs paid for in the levy
Green MountainData not obtained.Data not obtained.Data not obtained.Data not obtained.
LaCenterData not obtained.Data not obtained.Data not obtained.Data not obtained.

Let's examine what the data in the table means:

State Funded Certs (FTEs) – This is number of Full Time Equivalent Employees (FTEs) that the State of Washington says (using a formula) are needed to effectively provide education in the district. The number of FTEs relates to enrollment numbers. To be clear this is the number of FTE's for which the State pays.

Actual Certs (FTEs) in District – This is the number of FTEs that the school district says it actually need to provide education in the district. These FTEs that exceed the states recommendations are paid for through the district levy.

Example: Camas: In the levy will be the cost of 33.9 additional personnel. Depending on the salaries and benefits this can be a significant cost and drive up the size of the levy.

Finally, ask yourself whether decreasing class size or increased spending per student translates into better performance and outcomes. Are the outcomes notably different as the amount of money spent increases?

Add your own questions, take the time to research, read and contemplate and then make your decision. Should you support a replacement levy or levy increases? Then…vote.

Dick Rylander