How Much Will it Cost?

How Much Will It Cost?


“If the State’s funding formulas provide only a portion of what it actually costs a school to pay its teachers, get kids to school, and keep the lights on, then the legislature cannot maintain that it is fully funding basic education through its funding formulas.”

— Washington State Supreme Court, McCleary v. State (2012)1


The gap between what the State should be spending per pupil has been growing. In 1995, the state was short-changing every student by an average of $1,393. By 2014, that gap had more than doubled to $3,232. Again, this is the amount per pupil the State is not funding (not adjusted for inflation). In 2015, Washington ranked 40th nationwide in per-pupil spending, behind states like Alabama and Mississippi.The State only pays for roughly 2/3 of what it should be paying to fully fund basic education.3


That’s up to the State, per the oversight of the state Supreme Court. However, here are some views on what the amount could be, as reported in the Seattle Times:

  • Some legislators say it’s a $3.5 billion per biennium funding gap – or $1.76 billion a year, according to a June 2015 fiscal analysis. But, they say the only major cost they still have to fund is staff compensation.
  • Randy Dorn, Washington State’s Superintendent of Public Instruction, says it will cost $7.6 billion per biennium to fully fund basic education – or about $3.8 billion a year. But that number doesn’t factor in capital costs, which would be separate — and Superintendent Dorn recommends lowering class sizes to 20 students for “advantaged” populations, and 17 students for the “disadvantaged.”
  • Tom Ahearne, the lawyer representing the McCleary plaintiffs says its more than $10 billion — $8 billion per biennium to fully fund basic education — plus funding to pay for cost-of-living increases for school staff, a recommendation from a legislative working group (and approved by Washington State voters in 2000 – Initiative 732). In addition, a one-time $2 billion investment is needed to construct more classrooms to accommodate smaller class sizes, and capital construction dollars for renovating crumbling school buildings .


In 2009, HB 2261, the bill defining “basic education,” created the Quality Education Council, which tasked education leaders and policymakers to come up with recommendations on how to put the definition of basic education into practice. Superintendent Dorn’s estimate is based, in part, on recommendations from that council. Even though the Council was mandated by the legislature, state lawmakers’ estimate of $3.5 billion a biennium largely ignores the Council’s recommendations. In fact, in 2015 the legislature eliminated the QEC, coming up with their own cost analysis.

Superintendent Dorn’s estimates include the cost of implementing Initiative 1351, approved in November of 2014, requiring lower class sizes in all grades. In July 2015, legislators said they were unable to find the $2 billion it would cost to fund I-1351 and put it on hold — so the cost of implementing I-1351 is not including in their number. Ahearne does not include I-1351, because it was passed in 2014 after the McCleary case was decided.

The bottom line: the State is way behind in fully funding basic education, and solving the problem is going to take funding that we currently do not have. That means we’ll need new revenue sources. Read more about our view on that here.

1 McCleary v. Washington

2 Education Week, January 2015. Data from Education Week Research Center, 2015. Figures adjusted using NCES.