How Are Schools Funded?

  • Why are voters asked to approve maintenance and operations or program levies so often?
    By law, maintenance and operations (M&O) or program levies can only be proposed for a maximum of four years. Public school districts may choose to run levy ballots for one, two, three or four years. However, after the allotted number of years, the levy expires, similar to a magazine subscription. Districts must go back to their voters and ask for a continuation, or renewal, of levy dollar support. Generally, the levy you are voting on simply replaces one that is about to expire.

    Is there a limit on the amount a district may propose for levies?
    Yes. Districts may only collect a maximum percentage of their annual state (and some federal) revenue allocations. This maximum is known as the “Levy Lid.” This percentage is set by the State Legislature and the lid amount varies as some districts were grandfathered in at a higher percentage when the law went into effect. Currently the highest levy lid is set at 34%. Typically, levy lids in Snohomish County range between 20% - 28%. If the levy collected is greater than the amount prescribed by the lid, only the voter approved amount may be collected.

    What is the difference between a bond and a levy and what do they pay for?
    Levy money and bond money are intended to meet different but important student needs. Below is an outline of what levies and bonds are typically allowed to fund.

    Levies - By law, school districts can only run program levies for a maximum of four years. Capital levies may run for up to six years. Levies must be approved by 50% plus one vote. Here’s a sample of programs and services that program levies typically fund:

    • Supplemental funding for teachers’ salaries for additional time and planning.
    • Paraeducators to increase the number of adults helping and assisting children
    • Additional funding for textbooks and curriculum
    • Additional funding for special education support
    • Additional curriculum offerings for students
    • Funding of student athletics and co-curricular activities
    • Additional funding for school bus transportation
    • Additional funding for building and grounds maintenance
    • Additional costs of highly capable education
    • Funding support for the community use of facilities

    Bonds - Bonds are financed over a long period of time, generally 12 to 20 years and are comparable to a home mortgage. Bonds must be approved by 60% plus one vote. Upon their sale, bonds provide immediate funds for:

    • New school construction
    • Acquisition of property
    • Capital projects, such as modernization of schools
    • Bond dollars may not, by law, pay for the day-to-day costs of running a school district.

    Do all public schools receive state funding?
    Yes, but some get more than others. An exception to the formula was allowed and some districts’ teacher salary schedules were “grandfathered” at a higher percentage of the adopted state salary schedule. Today, 12 school districts out of the state’s 294 districts are compensated at a higher salary rate ranging from .65% to 4.96%. Additionally some districts’ levy lids are higher, allowing them the ability to collect additional local funding.

    The Basic Education Act of 1977 set a formula for sending state funds to school districts. The basic formula gives each district a certain dollar amount for each full time equivalent (FTE) student - each student attending school all day. For each student who needs extra services, such as special education programs, gifted education, or bilingual education, there are state and federal formulas for supplemental support. Districts that employ teachers with advanced degrees get extra funds for salaries. Districts with fewer than 300 students also receive extra money.

    What do federal funds pay for?
    The amount and program designation varies from district to district depending on the needs of the students. Typically, federal dollars pay for a percentage of vocational programs, special education, American Indian education, disability programs, food service programs and special grants.

    Where do schools get their money?
    From four sources:

    • About 70%  from the state
    • About 20% from local school district taxpayers
    • About 6% from the federal government
    • Other 4% from fees, rentals, donations, etc.

    How do schools get “local” money?
    Through levy and bond issues. Both are approved by the voters and are based upon local property valuations. Property owners pay a set amount for each $1,000 of their assessed property values. Once approved, levy and bond amounts cannot be increased. When community property values increase, the amount paid per $1,000 decreases. There are exemptions for senior citizens who meet income requirements. For information on tax exemptions call the Snohomish County Assessor’s office at 425-388-3540 or 425-388-3433 or King County Dept. of Assessments at 206-296-7300.

    * The information on this page was provided through a brochure developed by the Snohomish County Schools Public Information Cooperative. It was developed in an effort to describe how public schools for grades kindergarten through twelve are financed in Washington state.