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    A task force may out-do Inslee, McKenna on education money

    Our governor candidates want to believe growth will provide enough money to fix schools. The Legislature has set up a group that looks capable of delivering a smarter answer.
    The state Supreme Court is trying to compel lawmakers to comply with its 2012 McCleary mandate to fully fund education.

    The state Supreme Court is trying to compel lawmakers to comply with its 2012 McCleary mandate to fully fund education. Cacophony/Wikimedia Commons

    It’s not called the super committee, but the legislature’s Joint Task Force on Education Funding has a mandate that would fit that description. 

    In response to the state Supreme Court’s decision last January in McCleary v. State of Washington that the state has not met its constitutional “paramount duty” to amply fund basic education for all children, the 2012 legislature established the task force to recommend “a reliable and dependable funding mechanism.” And it is instructed that it be done by Dec. 31 of this year. 

    So four senators and four representatives, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans, along with three gubernatorial appointees, have just a few short months to do what numerous other task forces and the Legislature itself have been unable to accomplish in several decades since a Thurston County Superior Court judge in 1978 found the state’s school funding system to be unconstitutional (Doran decision in Seattle School District v. State).

    The new funding mechanism must at least support full implementation by 2018 of four educational enhancements identified in legislation passed in 2009 and 2010. These are: full-day kindergarten; reduced K-3 class size; increased allocations for maintenance, supplies including text books, and other operating costs (MSOC); and a new student transportation funding formula. A major unstated goal is to end the over-reliance on local levies.

    To meet the court’s deadline, the assignment is to phase in full funding over the next three biennia, starting with $1 billion in the 2013-15 biennium, followed by an increase to $2.5 billion in 2015-17. Total new revenue required in 2017-19 is estimated to be at least $3.3 billion, and includes restoration of K-12 salary reductions enacted in the current budget. Not included in the estimates are increases in instructional time and graduation credit requirements, both of which have been added to the definition of basic education.

    The task force must recommend one preferred funding mechanism. However, it was given the flexibility to recommend several options. These could be new dedicated revenue sources. Or education could be funded with no new revenues, which then would require reductions in other areas of the budget. If the latter, the task force must identify current programs and services that would be eliminated or reduced.

    Since “mechanism” is not defined in the legislation establishing the task force, it could conceivably encompass an economic growth scenario in which sufficient revenues are generated under the current tax system as the economy continues to recover. Both candidates for governor have indicated a belief that full funding can be accomplished with increased economic activity and without new taxes. That prospect, however, would not seem to meet the Legislature’s intent that the funding mechanism be “permanent.”

    The task force used its first meeting on Aug. 3 to get organized. 

    It elected as its chair Jeff Vincent, a gubernatorial appointee and chair of the state Board of Education. Vincent also represents the state’s business community as CEO and president of Laird Norton Company LLC, and as a member of the board of directors of the Washington Roundtable. Laird Norton is a private wealth management firm. The Roundtable is comprised of chief executives representing the state’s major private sector employers.

    Vice chair is Susan Enfield, Highline School District superintendent and for a brief time the interim superintendent of Seattle Public Schools. The full task force membership can be found here

    Several issues were raised at the first meeting that may provide a sense of the direction the discussion will take. Two members asked what education funding levels would look like if the baseline was not the current 2011-13 budget but the budget before major cuts were made. The Supreme Court had broached that question in its McCleary decision:

    [O]verall K-12 funding — including funding for basic education — sustained massive cuts in the 2011-13 operating budget. Teacher and staff salaries were reduced by 1.9 percent, and administrator salaries were cut by 3 percent. The budget provided virtually no increase in funding for MSOCs. And the new transportation funding formula provided only $5 million more for student transportation than the legislature allocated during the previous biennium. Nonbasic education funding was likewise reduced in the 2011-13 operating budget. Funding under Initiative 728, for example, sustained cuts of $860 million, and a separate program for reducing K-4 class sizes lost $214 million.

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    Posted Wed, Aug 15, 5:57 a.m. Inappropriate

    The failure to create an adequate and reliable funding source for education characterizes Governor Gregoire's two terms of office. It is her signature failure. She has no signature success. Despite repeated promises, starting with her initial campaign and stretching through a number of different blue-ribbon committees like this one, she was never able to find a solution to this critical problem.

    Or, rather, an answer was found, but the answer - an income tax - proved unpalatable to the Governor and a small, influential group of high earners who would have paid the tax.

    The problem hasn't changed. The answer hasn't changed. The opposition to the solution hasn't changed. This blue ribbon committee won't find any other solution. And they won't be any happier with the one and only solution they can find.


    Posted Wed, Aug 15, 8:11 a.m. Inappropriate

    Going for an undefined mo' money is nutz.

    First, and the establishment has never said this, define what "enough money" is.

    Value engineer that amount, tie it to attainment of goals, then you know where the finish line is.

    Only then, can you discover how to reach that amount.

    Oh, and dedicated funding sources have NEVER EVER exactly matched the need. I do wish there was no dedication, and make the legislature prioritize the money they have.

    That way, the stuff folks want will be funded, and the not-so-important stuff won't. I am tired, really tired, of legislative bodies not funding what folks want, knowing they can put up a separate ballot issue that will get an affirmative vote, and instead fund stuff folks don't want with general revenues.

    Like the Seattle Library issue.


    The Geezer has bloviated.


    Posted Thu, Aug 23, 4:24 p.m. Inappropriate

    Actually, Geezer, "enough money" was defined. The Legislature defined it in their redefinition of Basic Education, which was the promise they made in lieu of actually funding education.


    Posted Thu, Aug 16, 11:13 a.m. Inappropriate

    Good piece, we need to know what's ahead. But isn't it glib to equate McKenna and Inslee's proposals? are they really that similar? I have read that, over a decade, Mckenna's education money comes out of DSHS which, I understand, is the fastest growing department budget in the State. On a very basic level then McKenna would be favoring younger generations to the detriment of elderly and disabled (and whoever else benefits from State aid programs). Given what has been happening for the past forty years that would seem to be rebalancing the budget in a more equitable and socially beneficial way. Young people are getting screwed and are going to continue to get screwed no matter what happens but McKenna -at least seems to- acknowledge that. Maybe that is not his intent; he certainly does not say it out loud.


    Posted Sun, Aug 19, 11:39 a.m. Inappropriate

    Two comments:

    1) I agree with Keith about the foolishness of equating Inslee and McKenna’s funding plans. Both candidates’ claims are disingenuous, but in different ways and, if followed, with different consequences. Furthermore, very importantly, given the extreme ideology of the Right -of which, don’t forget (people here do!) Mckenna is a member - there is no chance McKenna will change direction once elected, whereas it’s plausible that Inslee might.

    2) People are more willing to support a new tax when they know it will go to a very specific purpose, with safeguards built in against budgetary shell games and with ongoing, real transparency about program allocation. I’m a tax-and-spend liberal, but will allow that’s fair enough.

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