The Education Budget

Ardmore Elementary - Bellevue School District
Ardmore Elementary – Bellevue School District

I’m pleased to report that we were able to add just over a billion dollars ($1,000,000,000) in new money to education funding in Washington, or about a 12% increase. This is a step towards meeting the obligation to amply provide for the education of all children residing within our borders the constitution calls for and the Supreme Court is requiring us to do in the McCleary decision. My initial proposal was for significantly more. We believe the final bill will be close to $4.5 billion, and we have 5 years to phase into a solution. This budget has 2 years in it, so 2/5 of the eventual problem would require a $1.7 billion increase. We didn’t get there, but what we did do is pretty significant.

  • We expanded instructional time in middle and high school from 1000 hours per year to 1080, an increase of more than 2 weeks. Paradoxically, because of the way school districts make funding decisions today, in some districts this will result in an increase in K-6 instructional time as well – a good thing.
  • 43.75% of Washington’s 5-year olds will have access to state-funded full-day Kindergarten. These will be in the highest poverty schools in the state, the best place to make our education investment. This is a huge increase.
  • Class sizes in K-1 classes in high poverty schools will be reduced to just over 20 kids per classroom.
  • We almost double the “Learning Assistance Program,” (LAP) funding that goes out to help struggling students. We also reform the program, making it more evidence-based than it is today, and focusing it somewhat on reading in the early grades.
  • Over half a billion goes to school districts to fund transportation and what we cryptically refer to as “MSOCs,” or materials, supplies and operating costs. This will free up local levy money for whatever purpose the local district thinks is appropriate – either lower class sizes, fewer early release days, or whatever works for them.

There were a lot of other items funded, and you can find out the details at The first link to check out is the “Summary” under “Proposed Budget Compromise.”

Other notes on the K-12 budget:

  • We did NOT eliminate healthcare for part-time employees  who work between 20 and 30 hours per week as the Republicans wanted to do. This would have affected mostly aides, bus drivers, folks that work in the lunchroom, etc.
  • We did NOT fund a cost of living (COLA) increase for teachers or other school employees. Despite our desire to do this, we didn’t do it for any state employees. This will make it 6 years without an increase from the state, and we will absolutely have to fund this in the next budget. Teachers will have lost something like 15% of the purchasing power of their state-provided salary by then, an unsustainable situation.
  • We did NOT lower local school district levy authority, a key Republican proposal. Most of the increases in state funding are going to high-poverty districts, and the reduction (ostensibly to counter the increase in funding) would have hit Eastside districts like ours hard.
  • We DID combine a number of dropout programs, or other programs that were less academic in nature, into a block grant administered by the Superintendent of Public Instruction. We provided enough funding to districts that they can buy into any of the programs that were offered if they think they are a reasonable investment for their kids.

We continue to make progress on a number of key initiatives. It’s important to remember that progress in changing a system with 1 million students and over 100,000 adults is measured differently than it would be in a small company with a couple of hundred employees. It takes a while to change the behavior of 295 different school districts, each with their own management and union contracts.

  • Our new teacher-principal evaluation program (TPEP) continues to be implemented. We provided about $20 million in funds for training to make this work. We’re trying to build an evaluation system that is trusted by all parties and that includes student learning results into the measures for teachers and principals. So far it’s making progress and being viewed well by both teachers and administrators.
  • Our student assessment system got simpler as we are taking advantage of tests that are provided by a consortium of states. We will no longer be in the business of writing our own tests (it turns out that Algebra is the same here as it in Minnesota.) This will combine a couple of tests and result in less time spent testing, more information available to teachers, students and parents, and we will save about $25 million over what we expected to.
  • We finally agreed on a bill that allows the state to intervene in schools that persistently do not achieve student learning goals. They will be treated in much the same way that districts who fail in financial management are – they’re put on “binding conditions” by an expert from OSPI and earn their way off over a couple of years. This was a great piece of work that Rep. Kristine Lytton negotiated.

To make continued progress on K-12 funding and comply with the court (and help Washington move forward into the 21st century) we are going to need to make another significant payment in the next budget. I’ll be working with a diverse group of people to come up with a generally accepted plan before then. You’ll hear about it.

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.