McKenna lays out plan to pay for boosting schools

The Republican beat his Democratic rival Jay Inslee to the punch in detailing how to meet a state Supreme Court decision requiring better state funding of schools.
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Rob McKenna

The Republican beat his Democratic rival Jay Inslee to the punch in detailing how to meet a state Supreme Court decision requiring better state funding of schools.

Gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna unveiled Tuesday how he plans to boost Washington's education funding, although he was a bit shy about what might be cut elsewhere if a poor-case scenario surfaces.

In simplified terms, McKenna proposes to spend any extra revenue beyond a 6 percent biennial growth rate on K-12 education. The idea is to shift bigger and bigger shares of the state's money to education over the next several years.

McKenna's proposal addresses the so-called McCleary decision — January's Washington state Supreme Court ruling that the state is not meeting its constitutional duties funding and providing education. Complying with that ruling is expected to dominate legislative budget struggles for the next several years. The ruling calls for the state's education funding to be uniform across Washington, stable and to have sufficient money.

In the early 1990s, funding for K-12 education made up 48 percent of the state's budget, dropping to 39 percent in the 2005-2007 biennium and then rising to 44 percent currently, the Republican candidate said. His plan aims  to increase that percentage to almost 50 percent by the 2019-2021 budget biennium. Part of his plan calls for trimming the government workforce by attrition, tackling efficiency matters, and shifting state employees to different health insurance plans  — proposals that the Legislature has been also implementing in recent years.

However, his main planks are to swap state education levies for local levies and to allocate any revenue growth beyond 6 percent biennially solely to education.

In the levy swap, the state would tax property owners an extra amount equal to accompanying cuts in local education levies. This move would not add extra money for school districts, but it would stabilize the current levy money going to them, McKenna said.

Meanwhile, McKenna anticipates 6 percent in state revenue growth each biennium due to predicted increases in inflation, population, and economic growth. The total expenditures for all non-education programs would be held at 6 percent growth, he said. Any revenue growth beyond 6 percent would be channelled to K-12 education. McKenna got vague when asked what would happen if extra unexpected non-education obligations surfaced.

He declined to say what non-education programs would be cut if a budget crunch occurred, instead contending they would instead not grow as fast as education programs. However, McKenna criticized the pace by which the state's health care costs are increasing  — saying the rate is 9 percent a year, which he contended is too much.

"If we don't do this, we're not going to increase money for education. ...   Look. This isn't going to be easy. If so, it would've been done already," McKenna said.

Here are the McKenna campaign's projections for his plan, using Washington Office of Financial Management numbers and a 6 percent revenue growth rate. Higher education's growth will be trimmed in 2015-2017 to accommodate the K-12 increases, according to the figures. they also include a proposal to reduce K-3 class sizes, -- which Democrat gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee also proposes -- and some other reforms. (These figures have been revised since they first appeared; for details see below.)

  • 2011-2013 — State budget is $31 billion. K-12 education would be $13.65 billion, or 44 percent of the overall budget. Higher education is $2.59 billion, or 8.3 percent. Non-education programs get $14.76 billion, or 47.6 percent.
  • 2013-2015 — The levy swap would occur in this biennium. The state budget would be $32.52 billion. K-12 education would be $14.09 billion, or 43.3 percent of the overall budget. Higher education would be $3.12 billion, or 9.6 percent. Non-education programs would get $15.31 billion, or 47 percent. 
  • 2015-2017 — The state budget would be $35.52 billion. K-12 education would be $16.18 billion, or 45.6 percent of the overall budget.  Higher education would be  $3.01 billion, or 8.5 percent. Non-education programs would be $16.33 billion, or 46 percent.
  • 2017-2019 —  The state budget would be $38.79 billion. K-12 education would be $17.99 billion, or 46.4 percent of the overall budget. Higher education would be $3.59 billion, or 9.3 percent. Non-education programs would be $17.21 billion, or 44.4 percent.
  • 2019-2021 — The state budget would be $42.36 billion. K-12 education would be $20.03 billion, or 47.3 percent. Higher education would be $4.08 billion, or 9.6 percent. Non-education programs would be $18.25 billion, or 43.1 percent.

Inslee's campaign has been non-committal — beyond seeking greater efficiencies  — about detailed ways on how it will raise money to meet the McCleary requirements. Until Tuesday, McKenna's position has been just as vague.

In a written statement July 31, Inslee's spokeswoman Jaime Smith said:  "McKenna continues  to campaign in an alternate reality. Rob's newest plan to fund education as phony as his first. The formula he uses wouldn't generate the  funding he claims for years, all the while critically underfunding essential services for children."  She called it: "Jobs Plan 2.0 with no new proposals, five different positions on health care reform, and a now a second school funding plan that doesn't work."

McKenna retorted: "They have no plan of their own. They're just throwing words out."

Regarding the revised figures: At the July 31 Q-&-A session, McKenna and his staff unveiled six columns of figures pertaining to K-12 education from 2011 to 2021. Since McKenna's July 31 Q-&-A session with reporters, his campaign released K-12 education figures with seven columns of numbers. Crosscut used the most appropriate column in the six-column chart discussed at the press session. The new seventh column in McKenna's new chart had the figures that his campaign said were the correct ones to use. Crosscut has checked and verified the numbers used in the new seventh column on K-12 figures.

Meanwhile on Tuesday, (Aug. 7), The Seattle Times published a story that Gov. Chris Gregoire and the Washington Office of Financial Management predict the state Legislature will need an extra $1.2 billion in 2013-2015 to meet the Supreme Court's education requirements and more money in later years. The Times had Gregoire disputing statements by both McKenna and Democrat gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee that they can raise the extra education money without increasing taxes. McKenna disagreed with Gregoire's interpretation, the paper reported.

 
  

About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government. He can be followed on Twitter: @johnstang_8