Basic Education Funding Task Force

I’m a member of the Basic Education Financing Task Force (BEFTF,) a group appointed by the legislature and the governor to try to re-write how K-12 education is funded in Washington. This is the reason I originally ran for the legislature in 2002, and has been a very long term project for me. The current system is dysfunctional – it’s so complex that very few legislators actually understand it, increases in teacher salaries from Olympia cause huge financial problems for local districts, and the many small buckets of money require districts to spend a lot of time doing the accounting work to track where it goes. We are also dependent on local communities paying for large parts of what anyone would call a “basic education” instead of the state, who has the constitutional responsibility for this.

Last week the task force finished voting on a proposal that makes substantive changes in the system. These changes will still need to be adopted by the legislature, but I have hopes that this will happen in the 2009 session. I will spend most of my time this year (other than that spent on fixing our budget problem) working on the school funding proposal.

I give a talk on this topic that takes about 45 minutes, and I’m not going to repeat all of it in this post. There were 5 proposals to the task force, including one authored by six of the legislators on the task force. I was part of this group. You can read our proposal and a blog on this at www.whatittakesforkids.com. The final proposal from our group includes good ideas from most of the other proposals. Some of the key changes:

  • A new definition of “basic education” that focuses on what children need to know and be able to do, rather than a set of arcane formulas. We’ll still protect the state’s investment in education in troubled economic times, but tie it to the opportunity to get an education that prepares young people for gainful employment or higher education.
  • A “model schools” format for the budget, linking state expenditures to actual educational expenses. This changes the current abstract, obscure and confusing system into a single page spreadsheet that lists things like #periods in the day, class size, etc.
  • A new compensation system for new teachers (those hired after the system is put in place, plus those who opt in) that is based on a structured peer-review system based on current research about teaching effectiveness rather than the requirement to get higher and higher degrees. The system would also include a building-based bonus for educational achievement in individual schools. This would include test scores, graduation rates, and other broad-based measurements of student success.
  • All-day Kindergarten for all kids, plus an investment in early-learning opportunities for low-income, at-risk 3 and 4 year olds. All the economic research leads us to believe that this is one of the most leveraged investments we can make. We’ll offer Headstart for all eligible kids.
  • Changes in financial and academic accountability to make sure that we can really measure academic progress for all students in the state, including internet access for parents to all information about their children, regardless of the school they attend.

Our proposal phases in the new investments over the next 6 to 8 years, both to ensure effective use of the resources and to help our state budget adjust. When finished, all of the current basic education expenses paid for locally will be covered by the state, leaving local communities to pay for enhancements. Paying for this will be complex, and will require making real prioritization choices. We propose returning to 50% of the general fund budget from the current 41%. This would entail taking a larger share of the natural growth in the state budget over time. Given the crazy economic times we are now experiencing this may not be adequate and we may need to talk about additional revenue, but I want to wait and see what the budget looks like at the end of this session before I come to this conclusion. We will have to make decisions about what an effective investment in education is worth.

You’ll hear more about this from me as we go through this session.

About the Author

Ross
I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.