The State of Education in Washington

Strategies 360 was honored to collaborate with Piper Sandler on their biennial research study on perceptions of public education in Washington State. Piper Sandler is a leader in education finance and school bonds and sponsors research to help school districts strategize their bond planning process.

In a diverse state like Washington, the landscape of public education is as varied as its regional boundaries.

A Shifting Landscape

Washington residents offer mixed ratings of their local public schools. While perceptions vary widely by district, an analysis of statewide survey data reveals significant demographic differences in perceptions of schools driven largely by ideology and parental status. Regionally, residents in Eastern Washington tend to be slightly more content with the quality of education in their region compared to their Western Washington counterparts. Understanding the demographics of your community is critical to effective communications.

It is evident that satisfaction with schools has dipped in comparison to pre-pandemic years, a trend supported by S360’s district-specific data. However, the study also reveals that more residents believe their school district aligns with their values and priorities than those who feel otherwise, with Eastern Washington respondents showing greater alignment.

While these ratings also vary by district, residents across the state tend to think their local schools are doing a good job maintaining buildings and facilities, keeping students safe, and teaching core academics like math, reading, and writing; they are less likely to rate schools as doing a good job communicating with the community, teaching career and technical skills, or teaching life skills like collaboration and time management. Eastern Washington residents also give higher overall ratings across most of these metrics than their Western Washington peers.

School Funding Measures

Washington residents hold nuanced views of school funding. Though a majority believe their district “needs more funding than it gets right now,” few volunteer to pay higher property taxes to achieve that end. Many residents now view school funding measures as a ‘tradeoff’ that leads them to ask what they (or, what students in their community) are ‘getting’ for the money. To that end, there is a clear need for districts to communicate their need for community funding and the concrete benefits funding measures provide students and schools.

When it comes to funding priorities, residents place a high value on mental health support, safety enhancements, career and technical education (CTE) opportunities, and technology updates; new school construction on its own is sometimes a tougher sell. CTE opportunities are particularly important for residents most skeptical of school districts.

Strategic Communication and Community Outreach

The survey finds that the ways people get news and information about schools largely align with the ways they want to get news and information; in other words, there’s no major mode or source of outreach that districts are currently missing. Parents tend to rely most on emails, texts, and social media outreach directly from schools and districts.  It’s no surprise that non-parents are harder to reach with regular communications; more of their information about schools comes from public sources like TV and newspapers. Understanding these gaps can guide districts in better reaching their communities and addressing their specific needs.

The full analysis includes detailed insights, demographic breakdowns, and actionable recommendations. Please contact Piper Sandler for more information.

Piper Sandler is also available to support cost-effective school financing solutions.

The Strategies 360 Education and Research teams are available to support strategic communications and research in your district.