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.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!