K-12 Education Funding

  • Funding for public schools comes from three main revenue sources:
    • State
    • Local taxpayers
    • Federal government


    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 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.

    The Property Tax Exemption Program freezes the value of the residence, exempts all excess levies, and may exempt a portion of regular levies for seniors who qualify. The program results in:
    • freezing the value of the residence, and
    • providing a reduction in property taxes.
    For further information, call the Pierce County Assessor's Office at (253) 798-2169. 


    The Basic Education Act of 1997 set a formula for sending state funds to school districts. The basic formula gives each district a certain dollar amount for each student attending school all day. For each student who needs extra services, such as special education programs, highly capable education, or bilingual education, there are state and federal formulas for additional funds. Districts that employ teachers with advanced degrees get extra funds for salaries. Districts with fewer than 300 students also receive extra money.


    The amount and the allocation of federal funds is different for each district depending on the needs and the demographics 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. 


    One easy way to remember the difference is this, "bonds are for building, levies are for learning." 
    Maintenance & Operations Levies
    These levies provides local support for schools beyond what the state funds. Levies fund education programs and operation of your public schools. The levy supports day-to-day operation of schools and items not funded, or not fully funded, by the state and provides about 20% of the general fund budget. Levy dollars are spent directly on services to all students and help pay for classroom teachers and paraeducators to keep class sizes small, all computers and technology in the classroom, half of student transportation costs, all athletic and after-school activity programs and instructional supplies and materials.

    By law levies can only be proposed for a maximum of four years, after that they must be renewed by local voters. School district levies are different than other taxes: voters approve a total amount of money. If property values go up, the rate per thousand goes down.

    In 2006 voters approved the current four-year levy that expires at the end of 2010. Because long-range financial planning is important and to reduce election costs, the Sumner School District Board will ask voters to consider renewal of the four-year levy. Most levy elections ask voters to renew an expiring one.
    • Limits to levy amounts: Most districts may only ask for a maximum amount of 28% of their state (and some federal) allocated revenues. This is commonly known as the Levy Lid. There are some districts with higher allowable levy amounts, some up to 34%.
    Levy dollars fund day-to-day expenses, not “extras.” 
    Bonds are used for capital projects—the construction of new buildings, major renovations or land purchases and are financed for an extended period of time.

    In May 2007 voters approved a capital projects bond to construct a new facility at Lakeridge Middle School and to modernize Bonney Lake, Maple Lawn and Victor Falls elementary schools, Sumner Middle and Sumner High schools.

    Each time local voters have approved a school bond, every project promised as part of that bond has been completed on time and under budget, including Bonney Lake High School and improvements to the District athletic stadium.

    Last year the Sumner School District was upgraded to an A1 bond rating by Moody’s Investors Service, based on the district’s excellence in financial management and planning for future growth in our area. The District sought to improve its bond rating as a savings to taxpayers when bond obligations are paid. Moody’s bond ratings range from AAA to B3. The higher the bond rating, the lower the interest rate.

    As families continue to move into the Sumner School District, we need to plan for future schools and new students. Currently developers contribute impact fees for each new single-family house built. Impact fees fund the purchase of portable classrooms to accommodate increased student enrollment, but the fees are not sufficient to cover the cost of new construction or facility modernization.

    Bond dollars may not pay for day-to-day costs of running a school.