Learn more about how Seattle Public Schools are Funded

School  Funding

The Montlake PTA, along with some other PTAs in Seattle Public Schools provide grants to the district to pay for staffing at their schools.  To understand why PTAs provide these grants, it is necessary to understand how schools are funded and why they are underfunded.  In addition, it is also helpful to learn how the pandemic has made the situation much worse.

Funding during the Pandemic The most important factor in school funding is enrollment. State funds are allocated to districts based on enrollment and then the district allocates staffing positions to each individual school based on their enrollment. If enrollment is down, districts and schools receive less funding. The pandemic has caused a decrease in enrollment in Seattle Public Schools, especially in elementary schools, so the district will receive less state funding this year as a result.

Last spring, the Montlake PTA led an advocacy effort to pass state legislation that would enact enrollment stabilization. That is, the state would continue to fund schools based on which enrollment number was larger: pre-pandemic enrollment in 2019 or projected enrollment for 2021. This bill was not passed. The state legislators indicated that districts could use their federal covid relief funds to keep staff where enrollment was down.

In the 2021-2022 SPS Budget, it shows that the district is receiving 2.42% less state funding ($16.7M less) and twice as much federal funding as the previous year with $68.5M COVID relief funds (ESSER). These relief funds are to be used to address the learning loss caused by the pandemic.  The district planned to use the funds this way, but then had unexpected additional COVID-safety costs with the emergence of the delta variant.

SPS Budget Allocations The Seattle Public Schools district develops their annual budget over the course of a year. In February of each year, schools receive their budget allocations for the following school year based on projected enrollment. The Weighted Staffing Standards is the precise model that the district uses to allocate staff to each school. It considers projected enrollment, class sizes, poverty level and equity tiers.

Last spring, Montlake was allocated 10 classroom teachers based on a projected enrollment of 227 students. That was one less teacher from the previous year. Our Special Education program was also impacted, and at the time the school lost 0.6 of a Resource Room Teacher and 0.3 of an Instructional Aide, leaving us with a 0.4 Resource Teacher, a 1.0 Access Teacher and 3 Instructional Aides.

Currently, Montlake has enrollment at 185, much less than projected. The district’s K-5 enrollment is down approximately 6.2% from spring projections. At the same time, there are reports of middle schools and high schools with higher than projected enrollment. Meany was projected to have 450 students and they have 525. Classrooms are too full to meet covid safety protocols and some classes are without a teacher.

Each fall, the district evaluates the actual enrollment at each school and makes any necessary adjustments. Since Montlake’s enrollment was much lower than projected, there was concern that we would lose another classroom teacher. That did not happen.  However, some schools did lose staff and some schools received more staff.

Underfunding of Schools Public schools have been historically underfunded for decades. The pandemic now adds more funding challenges because of decreased enrollment and increased learning and safety needs. SPS is facing a $68M budget shortfall next year and the budget deficit is expected to increase significantly after that. This is related to the limit that the city can raise in tax levies for education.

At the state level, they provide funding for K-12 schools according to the prototypical model that the state has defined. “The General Apportionment formula follows the prototypical school model. Prototypes illustrate a level of resources to operate a school of a particular size with particular types and grade levels of students. Allocations to school districts are based on actual full-time equivalent (FTE) student enrollment in each grade in the district, adjusted for small schools and reflecting other factors in the state's biennial budget.” For more information about what the state funds, you can read A Citizen’s Guide to Washington State K-12 Finance.

The Washington State prototypical model for K-12 education is still lacking, even after the McCleary Decision increased state funding for education through a state-wide property tax increase. Seattle Public Schools must receive funds from local tax levies to provide additional funding to schools to pay for the gaps in funding from the state. From the SPS Budget website:

The state’s education funding formula continues to be decades behind in key areas. The formula doesn’t provide funding for the full cost of many staff including school leaders, nurses, social workers, and central office. For example, we continue to be funded for 9 nurses for our 53,000 students; we pay for an additional 51 using levy funds and other grants.

Special Education also continues to be underfunded statewide. The state allocation for Special Education, including Special Education transportation, falls short of what our students need and what our families expect. We supplemented the state’s special education allocation by $71 million last school year using levy funds.

The district receives minimal support for other basic district functions such as curriculum, professional development, safety and security, facilities and maintenance, IT, and student technology. These foundational school supports must be paid for by our local levies.

While the McCleary Decision made more funds available at the state level, it also limited the amount of funds that local areas can raise through tax levies. This cap on funds will continue to impact SPS next year and for years to come. Budget shortfalls and more staffing cuts could be coming. 

Advocacy To makes sure that all students have access to a free public education that serves their needs, schools need additional funding to provide this basic level of education.  There also needs to be reform in how students can access additional services and how resources are allocated to schools.