Gov. Gregoire released her budget on November 21 and K-12 takes another hit, this time to both levy equalization and school days. Over the past three years, the state has reduced spending by $10.5 billion, and the biggest piece of that – 26 percent, or $2.7 billion – has been to K-12.
Blow to basic education: We were told to expect more cuts, but the manner of one in particular is troubling. Not only would the governor’s proposal take another $329 million from students, it would require redefining basic education to cut the number of school days. For $99 million in savings the state would set a precedent that basic education is what the state opts to fund – not what students need to graduate ready for college and career, and not what the state previously committed to. It undoes the “magic” of basic education funding reform and pushes us further from our goal to add instructional time in middle and high school.
It might also leave school districts right back where they were this summer -- having to reopen contracts. The proposal calls for cutting four days and cutting the corresponding salary allocations but keeping instructional time. How districts would do that is unclear and the governor’s office could not clarify during a budget briefing. Contracts typically define the number of hours in an instructional day as well as planning time. Districts with more resources may opt to absorb the 2.2 percent salary cut; others may be able to trim professional development days; still others may have to ask staff to work longer days for less money. And in all cases where days are trimmed, students won’t have access to campus services like food programs and libraries.
So the “equitable cut” really isn’t, and our least fortunate may again be hardest hit. (See press release, below.)
Cut to LEA: The governor’s plan to reduce levy equalization strives to protect those least able to tap local funding. Levy equalization is tax relief for property-poor districts. Along with local levies, it funds core services, including instructional time beyond five-hour days. Under the governor’s plan, the districts are grouped into four tiers. Districts with the lowest property values and highest local levy rates would receive the smallest cut (10 percent). Districts with local levy rates closest to the statewide average would lose program eligibility; these districts take a hit, but they are better able to offset the reduction by increasing their local levy.
Other reductions to K-12 include cuts to national board certification bonuses; a change in the state attendance policy; reductions in staffing at small high schools; reduction in administration; and elimination or reduction of various small grants and projects, a handful of which include Readiness to Learn, BEST teacher mentoring, PASS drop-out prevention, College Readiness and IT Academy. (Details:Governor’s budget and revenue options)
Apple Health OK in this plan: One area of relief in the governor’s announcement was that Apple Health for Kids was taken off her list of recommended cuts. Apple Health is an essential source of affordable, comprehensive coverage for all children. Thousands of families who have lost employer-based coverage have turned to Apple Health for Kids so that common childhood illnesses don’t develop into chronic and costly health problems. We asked the governor to prioritize it.
The half-cent buy back. As required, the governor presented a plan to balance the budget with existing revenue. She also listed options to increase revenue and “buy back” some of the cuts. The biggest is a referendum that would ask voters to temporarily raise the sales tax by half a cent. It would raise $411 million for K-12 and higher education; $42 million for long-term care needs; and $41 million for public safety. She also identifies $59 million in revenue options that the legislature can pass with a simple majority vote, and $282 million in revenue options the legislature can pass with a two-thirds vote.
A balanced approach: We have not endorsed any specific option, but we agree new revenue is necessary. Unfortunately, there seems to be a mindset about spreading the pain equitably. The state’s obligation is to identify essential needs and fund them. We will be engaged partners in making that happen.
·Local levies continue to pick up core educational costs. This reliance is inequitable, unstable and likely illegal. The state must continue its plan to put more money into basic education. Expanding the program of basic education to finally pay for a six-hour day would stabilize funding and ensure all children have the opportunity to graduate college or career ready.
·Children must also be fed, housed and protected from domestic violence. Targeted investments in early learning, K-12 reforms, juvenile justice and school nutrition not only keep other costs in check, they help all children reach their potential.
·Amply funding education for all children is the state’s PARAMOUNT duty. Court decisions have defined that to mean neither fiscal crisis nor financial burden relieves the state of its legal duty to fund its Program of Basic Education. Once it is defined, it must be funded. We cannot support cutting basic education to pay for other critical services. And we cannot sanction redefining it to give children less this year and in years to come.
Washington State PTA supports tax policies that are fair and equitable and that provide stable, adequate revenues for public education and programs that benefit youth.
On Nov. 28, the legislature will convene a special session. We will ask members to carefully review the consequences of each cut and to vet all revenue options. Rep. Ross Hunter, chairman of House Ways and Means and a one of the orginal Basic Education Funding Task Force members, has an idea about stabilizing levies and growing a tax base for basic education (read about it here). Other legislators may also step forward with proposals.
We want to hear them. We believe in making every child’s potential a reality. Protecting and investing in children is the moral thing to do and it just makes sense. They depend on us, and our future depends on them. TAKE ACTION
- Ramona Hattendorf, Washington State PTA government relations coordinator, www.wastatepta.org/advocacy;firstname.lastname@example.org
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