I came to the legislature more than 13 years ago to fix the way we fund education in Washington State. Towards that end I’ve led the charge to clarify and broaden the definition of “basic education,” successfully reduced K-3 class sizes, funded all day kindergarten, and provided students with adequate materials and supplies in their classrooms. Clearly there is still work to do on the remaining portions of McCleary, but the end is in sight and the problems (and reasonable solutions) are well understood.
Late last week Governor Inslee asked me to help with another key element of the education continuum and to serve as the Director of the Department of Early Learning. (Press release here.) With the passage of the Early Start Act this year the Legislature made an historic investment in high quality opportunities for all of our state’s children. I’m incredibly pleased with the opportunity to have huge positive impact on outcomes for young children. I look forward to leading the implementation of this act and taking DEL in new and exciting directions.
I want to thank my constituents in the 48th district for their support and dedicated engagement during my tenure here. I also want to acknowledge the high caliber colleagues I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to work with for more than a decade. As I transition into my new role, I look forward to continued collaboration with the Legislature towards breaking the cycle of poverty in our state through high-quality education for all.
The Legislature has made significant progress toward fully funding basic education. In the last three years, we’ve reduced K-3 class sizes, funded all-day kindergarten, and provided kids adequate materials and supplies for their classrooms. But there’s one critical and final component we must deal with – teacher compensation and local levies. The chart below should start to explain the problem.
This chart shows how teacher salaries have been constructed since 1996. The gray portion at the top is the part provided by local levies, not by the state.
Teacher salaries aren’t the only cost. School districts also pay classified staff and administrators, and the split between state and local funding is even greater for these categories than it is for teachers.
There are lots of reasons for this. Some make sense given how the system works and some are the result of the legislature skipping cost of living (COLA) increases during the recent recession. When the Legislature doesn’t fund COLAs, but the local district wants to fund them (in order to actually be able to hire competent teachers) they use money raised in local levies to do so. If it was just extra, above and beyond what is needed to actually be able to hire, this would be expensive, but not a constitutional problem. However, every study that we’ve done shows that they’re paying just about what the market needs them to pay to be able to hire and retain competent employees. The court ruled this unconstitutional because it’s the State’s responsibility to adequately fund basic education, and we’re shirking that duty by foisting part of the cost on local districts. Continue reading “McCleary Phase II”
19 members of the Republican caucus in the Washington State Senate released an open letter today complaining about a “constitutional crisis” between the Legislature and the Supreme Court over the McCleary decision and the court’s recent order. While the order is politically and practically inconvenient, I don’t see any better way to get the state to comply with our paramount duty – to amply provide for the education of all children residing within our borders.
In dealing with the McCleary case the Supreme Court has taken measured steps to get the Legislature to comply with the paramount duty clause of the constitution. In every circumstance they have chosen the least intrusive measure they could have. Many members of the Republican caucus in the Senate seem to be upset about this and want to eliminate the court’s ability to enforce the constitution.
If Republicans want to change the system to avoid this kind of conflict they can either remove the ability to have the court enforce the basic tenets of the constitution, or they can remove the paramount duty clause. I don’t support either, and neither will the voters.
Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. Sir Winston Churchill, Hansard, November 11, 1947
The Supreme Court released a new order in the McCleary case this morning, holding the state in contempt and fining it $100,000 per day (to pay for basic education) until it resolves the remaining issues, including both the unconstitutional dependence on local levies to pay for basic education personnel costs and the cost of construction of new classroom space. They also expressed concern about the pace of the phase-in of class size reductions.
It’s important to know that the phase-in plan in the budget we passed this year completely pays for the class size reductions called for in the McCleary order. The court recognized the work done by the Legislature in funding class size reductions, but seems to be concerned about the phase-in of lower class sizes. There is some confusion in how the cost of this investment is described in various documents, and we will work with the court to clarify this. The attached chart shows the level of funded class size and those recommended by the task force the court refers to.
House Democrats proposed a joint process to resolve the personnel cost issue with the Senate and Governor’s office and passed legislation (HB 2239) putting the process in place on June 26th. The Republicans in the Senate refused to take up the bill or offer any alternative.
I share the court’s concern about finalizing the plan sooner rather than later. Governor Inslee has called a meeting of all four caucus leaders for Monday to create a public process to resolve these issues expeditiously.
Thank you again for letting me represent you in Olympia. It’s an honor and a privilege, though I feel much less privileged when the session runs into July. We finished our work Friday morning June 10th, passing a transportation spending bill and bills that allow the state to take out bonds based on the revenue. We also passed a small bill changing high school graduation requirements, the centerpiece of a disagreement in the Senate over initiative 1351 (class size reduction.) The graduation bill delays the imposition of the science standards for two years, allowing 2000 kids who met all the graduation requirements other than passing the biology end of course exam to graduate. It does NOT make a number of other changes I took issue with when they came up earlier in session.
In the last week of June we passed the 2015-17 operating budget, my particular responsibility in the Legislature. It’s reasonably straightforward and didn’t need to take us until the end of June to resolve, but the Republican Senate was unwilling to compromise on their all-gimmicks, no revenue strategy until the very end. In the last few days we came to an agreement that is a true compromise – the House conceded to the use of more financial shortcuts than we would have preferred and the Republican Senate agreed to close $350 million of tax loopholes. I didn’t get everything I wanted, and there are some elements of the deal that are distasteful. I think the same is true for the Senate Republicans. Had we gone past June 30th the state would have gone into a partial shutdown, including laying off doctors and nurses, shutting childcare facilities for 50,000 kids (which would cause 30,000 low-income single moms to lose their jobs or depend on sketchy care), and other bad things.
Chris Vance has a lot to say in this article on Crosscut that I agree with, but more that I don’t.
He is right that the Legislature didn’t address the compensation element and still needs to. I expect the court to have something to say on this soon.
However, he and Superintendent Dorn remain confused about the scope of class-size reduction requirements the court specifies. He seems to believe that the court is requiring class size reductions in grades 4-12. They are not.
The Legislature created many advisory groups to provide input for the decisions it would make on class size investments, compensation, etc. These groups, while often providing valuable advice, do not make decisions that become part of the definition of “basic education.” If they did we would be spending prodigious amounts of money indeed. The Legislature reserves for itself the definition of basic education, and, based on inputs from several advisory groups, made those changes in HB 2776 in 2010. This created requirements for lower class sizes in K-3, all-day Kindergarten, a transportation funding formula that was based on expected costs, and maintenance and supplies funding. The court Specifically insisted that the Legislature fund the definition in that bill. We have done so. Both House Democrat and Senate Republican budgets funded a rational phase in of these investments, and provide adequate funding in the 2017-19 biennium to finish the job before 2018. The final budget does as well.
I agree with Mr. Vance that compensation for basic education employees is a responsibility of the state, not of local districts, and that significant structural changes will need to be made to how funding goes out to address the problem. I proposed HB 2239 this year that created a plan to work this out, with an court-enforceable deadline of 2018. The Senate Republicans refused to take up the bill, and did not send their proposal over to the House. This might lead one to believe that they are choosing to ask the court to be more aggressive in forcing resolution.
The remaining problem is about $3.5 billion a biennium, not $5 billion a year. Much, but not all of this is already being paid by taxpayers and a large part of the problem could be resolved with a wrenching property tax change that would be close to revenue-neutral at the state level, but cause significant tax increases in urban areas and corresponding decreases in rural areas. Not surprisingly, this has been resisted by urban areas who suggest a more balanced way of addressing the problem using capital gains or some other mechanism in addition to some of the property tax changes I and others have proposed over the years.
[UPDATE 5/20/15 10:30 PM We will be on TVW. You can find it on their website or click here.]
As I mentioned in my last blog post and newsletter, I think it’s necessary to discuss the details about levy reform in detail and in public.
Tomorrow, we are hosting a work session on K-12 levy and compensation reform. This session will be a chance for staff to present data on levy issues and for Legislators to discuss, in full public view, this information. While there will be no formal public testimony accepted during the session, we will welcome follow-up feedback from attendees.
Based on the work session and subsequent public feedback, I hope that we will be able to come to joint conclusions that reflect a larger consensus. Bipartisan support of a solution to this issue will be crucial for moving anything forward, and this won’t be achieved without the input and understanding of the public as well.
Thursday, May 21 10:30 a.m. House Hearing Room C Washington State Capitol, Olympia
To learn more about these issues, check out my blog here and here for some lengthy discussions on the topic.
Two recent articles in the Seattle Times point out one of the remaining key elements of resolving the McCleary “problem”, and it’s a BIG element. Most estimates have the size of the problem at about $3,000,000,000 to $3,500,000,000 ($3 – $3.5 billion) a biennium.
State in ‘weird place’ trying to alter reliance on school levies. This article talks about the politics involved, but doesn’t bring up all the weirdness with school funding formulas, in particular “levy equalization” paid to well over 200 districts (of 295) because their property values are lower than the core central Puget Sound districts. It also doesn’t address the “small school factor” that results in some very small school districts getting $50,000 per student.
Last week the Appropriations committee held a hearing on the second half of the McCleary decision; the requirement that the state fund adequate compensation, not local taxpayers. The hearing took over 3 hours and is super-interesting. You can watch it on TVW here.
This sounds terrifyingly dull, but it wasn’t. Anytime you talk about property taxes and use numbers like three and a half billion dollars you get people’s attention. We had a briefing on three Senate bills and a proposal by yours truly that isn’t drafted as a bill. The bills wind up being 70 pages long and we are not close enough to having agreement to spend the effort drafting legislation – I’d rather agree on policy first and then draft a bill. The drafting is a lot of work for staff that are all working on budget right now. I’m not a fan of random work.
Bruce Dammeier introduced a bill (SB 6109) that does many, many things. It’s AN implementation of a levy swap, but has a lot of restrictions in it that make it unattractive to urban districts. Bruce implements a regional compensation model.
Christine Rolfes has a bill (SB 6104) that does many of the same things, but also funds initiative 1351. It’s profoundly expensive and depends on the capital gains tax to pay for part of it. Christine does not do regional comp.
Jim Hargrove (SB 6103) uses property tax to shift some payments for compensation to the state, making major changes to property tax.
My proposal is very focused on dealing with the compensation problem, without making a lot of changes to how teachers are paid, restrictions on use of levies, etc.
The House bill we had a hearing on (HB 2239) makes no actual changes in law, other than a judicially enforceable schedule of making the decisions that need to be made. The schedule would lead to the new financing system being in place for the 2018-19 school year, just in time to comply with McCleary. The decisions could be made more quickly, but it would be difficult to get the buy-in if we do.
I’m not sure what our next step should be at this point. We need to have some public hearings to determine the financial parameters of the actual problem. I will attempt to schedule some meetings. We may choose to use a smaller room and have them be option for all the members of Appropriations to attend, or some other way to have a more interactive hearing. More to come.
One of the issues that is tangentially budget-related that needs to be addressed during this special session is that of high school graduation requirements and the assessments that we are asking our kids to take. We’ve gone through many changes over the past few years in our efforts to settle on a set of graduation requirements that work. In addition, we’re struggling to deal with one of the leftovers from the Bush administration, the “No Child Left Behind” act, which mandates a certain amount of testing.
Our goal is to ensure that students learn enough material in core subjects to be able to succeed in the 21st century, and to ensure that our schools are both offering a curriculum that leads to this level of accomplishment, but also focused on ensuring that all kids get there.
Current graduation requirements can be found here. As you can see from this graphic snippet from the site, there are different requirements for every graduation class. This is because the State Board of Education (SBE) has a goal of not changing the requirements for a class once they start high school.