All education funding is not equal; “basic ed” is protected
No deal for kids. Talk shifts to adult needs. Next session starts May 13
-In a legislative session that was “all about McCleary” and living up to promises made four years ago to expand and fund basic education, the state legislature ended its 2013 general session Sunday night without a budget and without agreeing on key K-12 issues – such as how much money to put into the program of basic education.
The divide isn’t just about K-12 money for the next two years, or even overall funding levels. The divide is about how much money moves into the “protected” realm of basic education. And the question for Washington State PTA is just how much of a long-term commitment will the legislature make to a million-plus public school children?
Take Action: Commit to kids; stop delaying on basic education
A legal strategy
The two chambers remain divided not only on how much to spend overall on K-12, but how much to put into the program of basic education, which is important from a legal perspective. All education money is not equal. The program of basic education is legally protected. The state can’t cut it for fiscal reasons; it has to have a policy reason. This is per court ruling in school funding lawsuits that preceded the 2012 McCleary decision.
This is why over the last few years money to lower class sizes was cut. It was enhancement funding. In contrast, school days were not. Basic education is legally defined, in part, as 180 school days. Once class sizes are funded as part of basic education, the state is committed.
This is why Washington State PTA has worked so hard for so long to redefine basic education and better align required allocations with what kids need. In the complicated world of education funding, “flexibility” translates to “the state isn’t on the hook.”
Washington State PTA does not want access to full-day kindergarten, small K-3 class sizes and adequate instructional time in middle and high school to be funded as “enhancements” – something the state can easily cut or something that can be pushed down to local school districts to fund via excess levy. We want them funded as part of “basic education” so the money will be stable and equitable. This is also why we have lobbied so hard for the expanded graduation requirements. We want all students to have access to the courses that will prepare them for family-wage work, advanced training or college.
In 2009, the state legislature agreed and with strong bipartisan support passed House Bill 2261 and broadened the definition of basic education. So from a long-term perspective, the more money we can put into basic education, the more stable and equitable funding for everyone, across the state, will be. School districts can plan better if they know that they can rely on the funding.
Another consideration: Some categorical funding is based on total basic education allocations, like funding for students enrolled in special education. Boosting the basic education allocation will increase funding for those programs. Boosting enhancement funding, such as funds for school turnaround, will not.
So when you hear something like “both House and Senate put a billion into education” you need to understand there is more to the story. The Senate proposed about $700 million for basic education. The House proposed $1.3 billion for basic education.
We want the biggest long-term commitment.
The budget writers have said they will continue to meet and try to work out a deal. The governor has called a special session for May 13. In addition to budgets to discuss, there will likely be bills considered “necessary to implement the budget.” There could also be policy bills.
So … what’s next?
Some issues to be negotiated:Tax preferences: The House would end about 2 percent of the 640 exemptions to the state Business and Occupation tax and put the savings into K-12 education and higher education. The plan would raise $900 million. The Senate plan does not increase revenue. Out of the mix: Extending the beer tax.
Reform bills: Several policy bills – or at least concepts -- remain in play, including K-3 reading; suspensions and expulsions; tests required for graduation; grading schools A-F; and changes to alternative learning.
-- Ramona Hattendorf, government relations coordinator, Washington State PTA
Note: This post originally referenced funding for highly capable as dependent on general basic education allocations. Highly capable funding is a percentage of enrollment at a school. Special education funding from the state is based on enrollment and a percentage of general basic education allocations. Both categorical programs are part of basic education.