Use of Tax Dollars

what are tax dollars used for

Where the Money Comes From

District receives most money from state, then local levy dollars

The district gets its operating revenue from five primary sources: state apportionment, local levy, state categorical, federal funds and fees for district programs.

State general funds

State apportionment, or state general purpose funding, provides the largest portion, 53.4 percent, of Olympia School District’s general fund revenue. The amount is determined by the number of students attending our schools and a series of formula factors. Those factors include legislatively-set base salaries, employee benefits and non-labor allocations. The collective education and experience of our teachers also affect the apportionment, since the state will provide a higher amount for teachers with more education and/or more experience.

The local property tax levy provides 23.7 percent of general budgeted revenues. These levy amounts are capped by the legislature: the district cannot raise more money than the limit even when your property value rises or even if the community wanted to raise more money for schools. Levies must be approved by Olympia School District voters at a special election.

State dollars that are earmarked for specific categories provide 10.7 percent of budgeted revenues. These funds must be used for specific categories such as special education, pupil transportation, English Language Learner education, learning assistance, student achievement and education enhancements. Most of these revenues are given for a specific program and are not available for other purposes.

Money from the federal government comprises 7.3 percent of district revenues. These dollars fund such programs as Head Start and Title I (educational enhancements to improve achievement of low-income children). They also provide supplemental funding for special education programs and support free and reduced price lunches in the food service program. These revenues also may only be used for their specific program purpose.

The district generates 4.4 percent of its own revenue by charging fees for programs such as extended day care and all-day kindergarten. This category includes revenue from sales of school lunches and investment interest earnings.

Payments from other districts for participation in joint programs, grants from other non-state agencies and transfers from Capital Levy for Technoloy Training & Applications accounts for 0.6 percent of budgeted revenues.

Where the Money Goes

Spending is focused on the classroom

Classroom expenses are Olympia School District’s budget priority. That’s where children spend most of their school day and where learning happens. So most of your tax dollars go there directly.

Money that directly supports what happens in the classroom draws over 80 percent of the district’s budget, 80.9 percent to be exact. This line item includes: salaries and benefits for teachers and instructional assistants; teaching supplies, materials and textbooks; salaries and benefits for counselors and librarians; special education and related services; staff development/curriculum development; and the costs of maintaining, cleaning, insuring, and providing technology support to school buildings.

Other support that keeps schools going represents 12.6 percent of the district’s budget. This item includes: building administrators such as principals, school support costs (secretaries, office supplies), transportation, food services, student activities and athletics.


District administration makes up 5.2 percent of the budget. This section includes: the superintendent and central office; business and human resources; utility costs for administrative buildings, maintenance and technology support.

Other programs

Makes up 1.3 percent of the district’s budget. These include our community services programs.

School Funding – how it works

Ever wondered how school funding is decided at the state level? Or why there seems to be enough money for technology and new buildings but not for supplies or needed staff positions? The answer lies in the state of Washington’s school funding system.

  • How come schools can afford new computers and new buildings but they can’t afford copy paper?
  • If the state of Washington is supposed to pay for basic education, what do my property tax

    dollars go for?

  • If we want smaller class sizes, can we get the money to pay for them?

If you’ve ever wondered about the way schools are funded in Washington and how that affects schools in Olympia School District, this background paper outlines the basic structure.

The Basic Education Act, passed in 1977, defines formulas used to fund a basic education for students in Washington state and thus what the state will pay for. Local levies were supposed to pay for extras – enhancements that local taxpayers wanted above and beyond the basics.

Funding for operations is capped

Basic education funding from the state, otherwise known as state general funding, makes up 53.4 percent of the 2011-12 budget for the district.

Different elements of the system were put into place so that access to education remained relatively equal across the state: a student in a poor area would not receive an education substantially worse than a student in a rich area. As a result, districts are limited in how much money they can raise through local levies.

Those local levy dollars come from local property taxes that provide additional money for school operating funds. These dollars are intended to provide for the extras – staffing or programming beyond basic education. In recent years, they have come to be used for things that most people expect schools to offer. For example, the state funds five periods in high school but students need at least six periods to get the mix of core and elective classes that prepare them for college entrance. Local levy dollars pay for that sixth period in Olympia schools. The local levy dollars pay for teachers, textbooks and the cost of keeping school buildings open among other items. It’s about 24 percent of the Olympia School District general operating budget.

Increasingly, state dollars are provided through what are called state categorical funds, those earmarked for specific purposes such as special education, transportation and English Language Learner education. These dollars are not available for other purposes.

Federal dollars are relatively few: just over seven percent of the district’s operating budget comes from the federal government. That money is also earmarked for specific purposes, such as Head Start, educational support for low-income students and support for free and reduced price lunches.

If state general funds, state earmarked funds and local levy dollars do not cover the costs of running a school district, there are few legal options for the district to raise more money. It can charge fees for some programs, like extended day, athletics or school lunches. But the ability to charge money is also limited: students are guaranteed a free education.

Money for building schools and buying big items (buses, technology) is raised through separate ballot measures such as capital levies and bonds. These dollars can only be spent on that specific purpose. They can’t be transferred to the general operating fund to pay for something else. So we can’t, for example, decide to use the money from the technology levy earmarked for new computers to pay for more teachers: that would be illegal. We also can’t decide to use the money set aside for modernizing schools to pay for anything in the general operating budget, like staffing, supplies or textbooks.

Since Basic Education was defined in 1979, though, the world has changed and the requirements for education have changed. Schools are held accountable for their performance through state-defined standards. They must adhere to the No Child Left Behind requirements.

At the same time, Washington’s national ranking for per pupil funding has dropped to 42 nd  in the country. Washington also has the nation’s fifth-largest class sizes. If parents want smaller class sizes or more services and programs for their children, the additional money needed to pay for them would require action by the legislature.


Category: Taxes

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