For nearly every occasion in life there is a metaphor, tortured or otherwise, that amplifies the circumstance. Whether mundane or horrifying, they roll from the tongue without much thought. For those of us engaged in Olympia on education, the offending phrase would have to be “no news is good news.” At a minimum there’s not been a lot to report in terms of education policy advancing—so if it is true that no news is good news, then education must be in fan-freaking-tastic shape.
Not that I’m throwing shade on our legislative friends, as this is the time of year when things typically go a bit off the rails, with policy bills traded or held close like baseball cards and state budget proposals still wrapped in mystery. To get a better idea of where things are, you can check our legislative bill tracker. But remember, even when you think something’s dead, until Sine Die (the Legislature’s equivalent of the closing bell) nothin’ is done, done.
Budget preview: While we’ve seen precious little in the way of specific budget proposals, except from Governor Inslee, we do have some optimism for what may come. In addition, we have clear ideas of what we’d like to see, and while it largely comports to what the Supreme Court has laid out, it doesn’t reflect a perfect mirror image. That’s because the McCleary decision focused on K–12 funding. In our view, basic education is a continuum from early learning through postsecondary attainment, and the budget’s education investments should reflect that.
Just a reminder that the core elements of McCleary include materials, supplies, and operating costs (MSOC); full-day kindergarten (FDK); transportation; class-size reductions for K–3; and fully funding compensation. The latter ends our reliance on local levies to pay for teachers and staff that are part of the model school framework established in legislation and recognized by the Court as essential to the definition of basic education. Deadline for funding is 2018.
What to look for:
MSOC: The cost of fully funding materials, supplies, and operating costs is a cool $856 million.
FDK: The delta on full-day kindergarten is $348 million. We’d like to see an investment this year that cuts this in half.
Class size: The elephant in the room here is what, if anything, the Legislature will do to fund and implement the class-size initiative 1351. McCleary considers class size K–3 as part of the basic ed definition, and the gap there is $1.1 billion. Some additional investment there is necessary to comply with the court’s ruling, but it comes with open questions about how to fund additional buildings and where to find the teachers necessary to make the implementation successful. (By the way, the current shortage of qualified substitutes is the canary in the coal mine of an oncoming teacher shortage.)
Transpo: The funds allocated to transportation in 2013 fully funded the McCleary requirement and will/should be continued at that level.
Compensation: Currently the state pays for somewhere between 65–70 percent of the costs for fully staffing our schools. This has led to an over-reliance on local levy funds for these essential staff. The Court was very clear that this is an unconstitutional practice. We believe that the Legislature should act swiftly to end this practice and fulfill the state’s obligation. Fully funding compensation would take roughly an additional $1.5 billion per biennium. An earnest down payment on this element is essential in any serious budget proposal that purports to address McCleary. In addition, the state should make the teachers “whole” by passing their cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). $235 million is not a huge lift and would end at least six years of silence on the matter at the state level.
Waiver: After Washington gained the distinction of losing the waiver that exempted our schools from the draconian requirements of No Child Left Behind, some legislators set out this session to get it back. SB 5748, sponsored by Steve Litzow, squeaked past the Senate on a 26–23 vote and has a hearing in the House Education Committee on March 31—the last possible day. Getting the waiver back would return to Title I schools control over $40 million in federal funds that were designated to help the students who need it most. We at LEV wrote to our House leadership and House Ed Committee members and asked them to pass SB 5748. I invite you to do the same.
Early learning: In order to implement and fund the new Early Start initiative, ideally, the Senate budget would allocate the $120 million that reflects the chamber’s fiscal note for the bill. The House version is $150 million.
Higher education supports: Whatever the Legislature does regarding tuition—holding it steady, or even rolling it back—they need to consider commensurate supports to the institutions so as not to perpetuate the cuts to higher education exacerbated by the recession. Flat tuition is good for students, but is essentially a cut to an institution’s bottom line.
On the access front, we’d like to see the College Bound Scholarship Program and State Need Grant fully funded with additional investments of $74 million and $246 million, respectively.
Where it’s coming from: While the recession gave us several years’ worth of fund balance deficits, the fiscal ship has been righted. This spring, there will be a surplus to work with. In addition, the conversations in the past have included levy reform, which could move about a billion dollars from local levies to the state coffers. The Legislature could also raise revenue through capital gains, carbon tax, and loophole closing. While additional revenue has an obvious upside, some legislators will see the political downside and these funds are much less of a sure thing to add to the mix.
In other news,
Mind the gaps: We’re seeing more and more evidence that the opportunity and achievement gaps aren’t shrinking much, aren’t shrinking fast enough,and in Washington’s case, aren’t shrinking at all. This sobering news is a good reminder of the importance of education data, which highlights some of the horrors, but also shines a light on some of the success stories.
We should have draft budgets from both the House and the Senate soon. I’ll see you next Friday (unless you’re attending our Annual Breakfast next Thursday!).
Until then, thanks for all you do for kids,
Chris (and Team LEV)
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