How will school funding change this session?

By: Emily Makings
8:39 am
February 2, 2018

In November, the state Supreme Court said that the state’s school funding fix, EHB 2242, will bring the state into compliance with the McCleary decision—if the salary component is fully implemented in SY 2018–19 instead of SY 2019–20. Beyond that, “At this point, the court is willing to allow the State’s program to operate and let experience be the judge of whether it proves adequate.” Not everyone is convinced; districts have raised a number of issues with the legislation that they think should be fixed, and several bills have been introduced this session to address them. (None have passed yet.)

The major question is whether the Legislature will fully implement the staff salary increases a year ahead of schedule. Gov. Inslee’s 2018 supplemental operating budget proposal would do so. Senate Ways and Means Chair Christine Rolfes has said, “My intention is to release a budget that complies with the court decision.” But, as the Seattle Times reports, other legislators have said it may be best to proceed as planned.

Some of the policy concerns that are generally mentioned are the regionalization factors, the repeal of staff mix, and special education funding. The League of Education Voters has a side-by-side showing how various proposed bills would change EHB 2242. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has a spreadsheet showing how its proposed changes would affect districts.

A Seattle Times story looks at how districts are reacting to the new regionalization factors. This is the way the Legislature addressed differences in costs of hiring in different parts of the state. Under the law, the amount of extra state funding a district receives is based on the house values in the district and districts within 15 miles of it. The Times notes that Tacoma Public Schools will have a regionalization factor of 12 percent; the district to its south (Franklin Pierce) will get 6 percent; and the district to its south (Bethel) will get no additional funds.

At first blush, you might expect districts to cheer an infusion of cash to pay their teachers. But the new funding formula — designed to lower local reliance on property taxes to pay for market wages — has created anxiety among district leaders worried about whether they’ll be able to compete with their neighbors for high-quality teachers. . . .

In King County, all but four districts — Enumclaw, Federal Way, Shoreline and Vashon Island — will bank an extra 18 percent in state funding to help recruit and retain employees. Enumclaw, Federal Way and Vashon Island will only collect an extra 12 percent.

“We’re recruiting from the same pool of teachers, yet there will be a significant deficit we’re coming to the table with when we’re trying to recruit the best and brightest,” [Federal Way schools chief Tammy] Campbell said. . . .

Some lawmakers who hammered out the K-12 budget last year have called for some patience in judging its impact on local schools. But Democrat Christine Rolfes, the Senate’s chief budget writer, said she’s already working to find a fix for districts, like Bethel, that get no extra money for teacher salaries compared with surrounding districts.

“There aren’t that many, maybe 20,” said Rolfes, who specifically mentioned Olympia, Quilcene and Whidbey Island.

As the LEV side-by-side notes, HB 2717/SB 6397 would make some changes to the regionalization factors. (Similarly, in the Tri-Cities, Richland school district gets a 6 percent regional adjustment, but Pasco and Kennewick don’t get one. A bill was introduced this session that would make the regionalization factors for Pasco and Kennewick 6 percent.) (For more on the regionalization factors, see here.)

As for the elimination of staff mix (the salary allocation model based on educational credits earned and years of service), the proposed bills HB 2717 and SB 6397 would increase salaries for districts with more experienced and educated teachers by 8 percent. The Times reports,

But Rolfes said lawmakers voted against staff mix for a reason.

“It wasn’t a mistake,” she said. “It was a purposeful policy change, and that’s different than an unintended consequence.”

Meanwhile, OSPI has released an interim report by the special education safety net workgroup. A final report is required by EHB 2242 to be submitted by Nov. 1, 2018. The safety net is there for districts that have special education costs that exceed the normal state allocation for special education. One of the questions posed in the report is, “Does the [special education cost] multiplier accurately reflect the actual needs in school districts?” According to the interim report,

There is unanimous agreement that the 22 year old special education cost multiplier should be increased. The workgroup supports OSPI’s 2018 supplemental budget request increasing the multiplier from .9309 to 1.09. There is concern that districts with large enrollment or districts with very small enrollment of students receiving special education services speculated that a larger increase to the multiplier is needed to eliminate their dependence on local levies for special education program costs. The workgroup will continue to analyze the effect of changes to the multiplier with further consideration of a multi-level multiplier.

The Legislature may decide to make changes to address these issues this session, or it may decide to follow the Court’s lead and “allow the State’s program to operate and let experience be the judge of whether it proves adequate.”

Categories: Budget , Categories , Education.