A technical point about the regionalization factor that increases salary allocations for some school districts

In a Seattle Times column yesterday, Donna Gordon Blankinship asks, “Why can’t school funding be fair?” She argues, “The state needs ample enough funding — as the Washington Constitution requires — so every child has the same opportunity to succeed in life, no matter what ZIP code they live in.”

She uses Yakima as an example:

[Yakima School District Superintendent] Jack Irion says the district has a difficult time recruiting teachers to come to Yakima. He says the district has made some progress but now faces a new challenge: teachers in the school district right next-door, West Valley, will be getting 6 percent more money, because the cost of living in West Valley is slightly higher than in Yakima.

I don’t think Irion is quite right about why West Valley gets a regionalization salary bump. Under the new education funding law (EHB 2242), school staff salary allocations are to be adjusted by a regionalization factor if the median single-family residential value in a school district and its proximate districts are above the statewide median. The bill defines “proximate” as districts within 15 miles (see section 104). (Because Yakima is right next to West Valley, the higher West Valley home values would feed in to the regionalization factor calculation for Yakima.) These regionalization factors of 6, 12, and 18 percent are effective through SY 2022–23.

The bill also allows the Legislature to make additional regional adjustments in the state operating budget, but these additional adjustments must be reduced or eliminated by SY 2022–23. The 2017–19 operating budget makes such additional regional adjustments for 27 districts, and the Legislature’s report to the state Supreme Court explains why (page 24):

After assigning initial regionalization factor values based on median residential values, new district allocations under the regionalization methodology were compared to estimated school district total state and local average certificated instructional staff salaries for the 2016-17 school year (the most current year for which data is available). In instances where the district's new allocation was less than their estimated total salary, the district's regionalization factor was increased by one tier (6 percentage points).

(Emphasis added.) The regionalization factors for all districts are available here. West Valley will get one of the additional regional adjustments that must be reduced by SY 2022–23. Its salary allocation will be increased by 6 percent in SY 2018–19 and 2019–20, 5 percent in SY 2020–21, 4 percent in SY 2021–22, and 3 percent in SY 2022–23. It appears that West Valley’s bump is based on its current salary allocation, not its home values (or cost of living). No other district in the Yakima Valley will get either type of regional adjustment.

Obviously this distinction doesn’t change things for Irion, but there is a different rationale for the two regionalization factors—illustrating the complexity of the new law. (Here’s our report on the bill.)

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