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Adequately funding Washington education? Just add taxes

Last week's meeting of the state education task force opened the door to real discussion about how to adequately fund Washington schools.
Students at the 2012 Washington Green Schools summit.

Students at the 2012 Washington Green Schools summit. Courtesy of Adam Crowley

In last January's McCleary decision, the Supreme Court directed the Legislature to meet its constitutional duty to amply fund K-12 education by 2018. Although 6 years would seem to be more than enough time, the challenges of meeting the deadline were clearly evident last week at a meeting of the panel charged with finding the revenues.

For the first time, the realities of partisanship became clear at the November 20 meeting of the Joint Task Force on Education Funding. Halfway through the meeting, the four Democratic legislative members of the body called for a private caucus. Heretofore, meetings have been conducted in a non-partisan fashion.

After a 30 minute break, they returned with a number of suggested changes to the three “strawman” budget proposals for basic education enhancements and funding sources that had been developed by task force chair Jeff Vincent and vice-chair Susan Enfield. Vincent, CEO of Laird Norton Company, and Enfield, Highline School’s Superintendent, are gubernatorial appointees to the task force.

Vincent and Enfield had recommended, as a starting point for discussion, increasing the amount of the state property tax levy, which is statutorily dedicated to the support of public schools. The proposed increase would raise the rate from the current $2.23 for each $1000 of fair market value to the legal $3.60 maximum. 

Two of the proposals would involve a levy “swap,” with the increased state property tax levy replacing $1.1 billion in local maintenance and operation levies across 295 school districts.

Their proposals suggested that modest amounts of revenue will result from further budget reductions in two areas: health & human services and in general government & natural resources. Details for these seemingly arbitrary reductions — what programs would be cut — were not provided. It was also assumed that savings would be realized from the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. These sources together, Enfield and Vincent projected, would produce $200 million per biennium.

They also proposed that two temporary taxes — the excise tax on beer and the B&O surtax on some services — be made permanent, that the sales tax be extended to some consumer services, and a new state 5 percent tax be added to the price of event admission tickets. If enacted, revenues for education from these sources in the next biennium would total $935 million. 

The revenues and savings recommendations were advanced in the context of the next three general fund budgets, and assumed that these future budgets would maintain other program funding at current levels. It did not include any further cuts to higher education or to programs that are not currently in the basic education category such as early learning.

The Democrats had concerns on several fronts. Senator Lisa Brown, the Senate’s outgoing majority leader questioned the “practicality” of the levy swap. Both Brown and Representative Pat Sullivan pointed out that the levy increase itself is problematic, given that year-to-year increases are currently limited to 1 percent. Sullivan also suggested that tax loopholes and exemptions should be examined, since ending some will lessen the need for new revenue.

On the spending side, Democrats were concerned that school administrative and support staff (secretaries, teaching assistants, custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers and others) salaries are insufficient to compete in the labor marketplace for highly qualified applicants and to retain the best current employees. They asked for more information that would expand on a report, circulated at the meeting, that outlined potential areas for enhancement of these salaries. 

Representative Marcie Maxwell suggested that an “accountability” line should be included in the budget to provide the means for determining how well public resources are being used to improve educational outcomes.

Another suggested change from the Democrats would move student transportation spending to the state’s transportation budget, allowing the general fund budget to focus on class size, school operating costs — including books, full-day kindergarten, reduced class size and increased high school class hours — and any additional education program enhancements. Transportation, at a biennial cost of about $230 million, is a relatively small part of the educational budget and there has been some talk that a transportation funding package might go to state voters next year.


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Comments:

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 7:57 a.m. Inappropriate

Education-related discussions always seem to come down to needing more money without a strategy to ensure kids leave school ready to contribute to society. Citizens -- taxpayers -- need a way to shape te conversation in this way. www.at10us.com might be a first step.

ejcarrig

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 7:40 p.m. Inappropriate

@ejcarrig, then let's have this suggestion be a requirement:

Representative Marcie Maxwell suggested that an “accountability” line should be included in the budget to provide the means for determining how well public resources are being used to improve educational outcomes.

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 8:35 a.m. Inappropriate

The education system in Washington state is run as though it was 1964. And, costs have gone up since then. So of course it takes a lot more money to operate such an archaic system.

Rather than trussing up a dead system, the education industries in Washington need to learn how to reboot their craft anew.

Like transportation, communications, medical, legal, publishing, aerospace, government administration, shopping, airline reservations, graphic design, photography -- even the lumber industry -- and hundreds of other public and private industries, education needs to align itself with current-world management and curricular systems.

This task force must resist ordinary thinking, lay aside funding and spending as solutions, rise above the insular, and demonstrate to other leaders and the public that the capability to deploy a new model already exists.

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 9:07 a.m. Inappropriate

Once again Goethe is right, "Nothing is worse than active ignorance."

Haven't we already proven that with the same educators and system currently in place, more money won't produce a better educated student? Check yes on your answer sheet.. But here we are again listening to the same old song and dance about the lack of money as the reason Jill and Jack can't read. Bullshift. The real reason is the lack of quality teachers. I for one would be more then willing to pay for that type of quality, but not to reward the ruling mediocracy in place right now.

http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/gnxp/2012/01/physical-education-teachers-are-not-smart/
http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-505145_162-37245744/heres-the-nations-easiest-college-major/
http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind02/c1/c1s5.htm

Djinn

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 9:28 p.m. Inappropriate

Someone in our family is an elementary school teacher in a "high-end" area of Seattle. Rules and regulations require that teachers be respectful of parents at all times. One parent has caused this teacher to consider leaving the profession. This parent has sued the district 3 times for not paying enough attention to her child. Each suit requires multiple meetings between lawyers, principal, teacher and parent. This same teacher received a parental email 2 yrs. ago requesting that the teacher change her hair style as her child didn't like the teacher's present style! This teacher is not a flake, she cares and likes the students. How about some quality parents?

s_calvert

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 11:14 p.m. Inappropriate

When ever someone talks about quality parents, I like to think that those jerks you identified are the source of the teachers and have been for decades. Why? Because the vast majority of parents reside at the low end of the spectrum, exactly where the vast majority of teachers come from. It's quantity over quality at those depths. We ain't in Lake Woebegone, but you already knew that.

It seems that we might agree and have found some common ground. I hope you feel better now, I know I do. We shouldn't overlook the fact these jerks fuel the system with their money, we should tread lightly, lest we hurt their feelings and they react by keeping their wallets closed.

Djinn

Posted Tue, Nov 27, 1:58 p.m. Inappropriate

Djinn, Based upon what I have read of your posts, you are on the low end of the spectrum. If you went to private school you are sure no advertisement for there efficacy.

jhande

Posted Tue, Nov 27, 6:50 p.m. Inappropriate

jhandle, Oh stop you're killing me. I read your reply and laughed so hard I almost wet myself, that was a good one. I loved it when you said "there efficacy". I didn't believe that end of the gene pool couldn't get much shallower, then you showed up. Be sure to wear your personal floatation device, even in water that low you're over your head. LOL.

Djinn

Posted Tue, Nov 27, 7:49 p.m. Inappropriate

Laugh all you wish, you are the individual talking about genetic superiority on a comment thread. Think about it, if possible for you.

jhande

Posted Wed, Nov 28, 10:27 p.m. Inappropriate

jhandle. You have the perfect right to disagree with me, judge me, trash me and hate me if you so desire. But it's a two way street, get used to it and if you don't measure up, I'll let you know and I expect the same from you. Neither of us are that special, no matter what our mothers told us, I recognized it years ago, apparently you haven't yet.

Djinn

Posted Fri, Nov 30, 3:25 a.m. Inappropriate

Djinn,What in my post would lead you to believe that I had any problem with things being said about me? I sure can't find it. Don't project your own thoughts onto me.

jhande

Posted Fri, Nov 30, 3:27 a.m. Inappropriate

Djinn,What in my post would lead you to believe that I had any problem with things being said about me? I sure can't find it. Don't project your own thoughts onto me.

jhande

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 9:24 a.m. Inappropriate

Redefine 'basic education' and get rid of thousands of bureaucrats, unionized custodians and lunchroom and locker room attendants, etc. and reduce tax rates and taxes.

animalal

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 3:39 p.m. Inappropriate

So, Charter Schools pass and now all these taxes are supposed to be raised.

jhande

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 6:36 p.m. Inappropriate

So how much is the implementation of the Common Core State Standards going to cost?

The last time I checked the low ball figures from OSPI ... it was the equivalent of 330+ teachers annually.

Will CCSS provide the opportunity for an ample education or is it the latest money pit?

I have difficulty comprehending how the legislature and Mr. Dorn are going to improve education.

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 8:05 p.m. Inappropriate

The thing that would improve education is the one thing that the billionaire backed "education reformers" will never mention, and never want; and that is to end unemployment and poverty. Let's say that today, every person in the United States had a perfect k-12 education and an advanced post-secondary school education; with outsourcing and the activities of the business community of which the billionaire education reformers are a part, we would still have the same impoverished citizens, and the same unemployment.

That is why the word "poverty" will not be mentioned among the billionaire backed education reformers, or their billionaire backers.

jhande

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 8:06 p.m. Inappropriate

The thing that would improve education is the one thing that the billionaire backed "education reformers" will never mention, and never want; and that is to end unemployment and poverty. Let's say that today, every person in the United States had a perfect k-12 education and an advanced post-secondary school education; with outsourcing and the activities of the business community of which the billionaire education reformers are a part, we would still have the same impoverished citizens, and the same unemployment.

That is why the word "poverty" will not be mentioned among the billionaire backed education reformers, or their billionaire backers.

jhande

Posted Mon, Nov 26, 8:07 p.m. Inappropriate

The thing that would improve education is the one thing that the billionaire backed "education reformers" will never mention, and never want; and that is to end unemployment and poverty. Let's say that today, every person in the United States had a perfect k-12 education and an advanced post-secondary school education; with outsourcing and the activities of the business community of which the billionaire education reformers are a part, we would still have the same impoverished citizens, and the same unemployment.

That is why the word "poverty" will not be mentioned among the billionaire backed education reformers, or their billionaire backers.

jhande

Posted Tue, Nov 27, 6:38 a.m. Inappropriate

The levy swap is a very bad idea. No reputable person would ever consider it. Communities that voted to tax themselves for their local schools should not see that money taken by the state and spent in other districts where the communities refused to tax themselves. Moreover, that levy money belongs to those school districts, and I don't see how the state has the right to simply seize it from them.

I don't understand why no one thinks well enough of the people of this state to simply be straight with them and explain it plainly:

* Here is the value to society to educate our children
* Here is the definition of basic education
* Here is what that will cost
* Here is the property tax rate required to pay for it
* Grow up and pay it - pay for the things you need

Every adult pays their bills. This is a bill and we have to pay it. Only children, fools, and thieves think they can get something of value without paying for it. The people of Washington are none of these (at least not for the most part) and we can withstand exposure to the truth - regardless of our political affiliations.

The assurances that the government can offer in return are:

* The state will not take this money to pay for other purposes
* The state will not fund a surplus
* The state will not fund services in excess of basic education
* The state will limit district spending on administrative costs
* The state will aggressively pursue inefficiencies in education spending
* The state will institute effective accountability measures on schools and districts
* The state will take steps to foster innovation and restructuring of our anachronistic industrial educational practices

This is a deal that the government can and should make with the governed. This is a deal that the governed, at least the adults among us, should be able to accept.

coolpapa

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 3:44 a.m. Inappropriate

I think the legislature should simply ignore the WA Supreme Court ruling, and dare those clowns to do anything about it.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 3:43 a.m. Inappropriate

Any time I see the word "stakeholder," I know the fix is in. The "progressive" Inner Party has made their decisions about exactly how the Outer Party and the proles will get screwed.

NotFan

Posted Thu, Nov 29, 7:30 p.m. Inappropriate

I like the idea of charter schools, for the simple reason that they are not what we already have.

Perhaps they will fly, perhaps they will sink, but at least there is now an option to think about.

Posted Sat, Dec 1, 3:23 p.m. Inappropriate

"The education system in Washington state is run as though it was 1964."

Wouldn't that mean that kids come out at graduation being able to read and write, and even know something about how to cook, balance a checkbook, fix a car or build something in shop class?

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