Education roundup

The AP reports that some are now estimating that the cost of complying with the McCleary decision on education funding could be in the ballpark of $6 billion. That number includes not only K-3 class size reduction, full day kindergarten, and materials, supplies and operating costs, but also takes into account that

. . . the 2012 court ruling also called on the state to quit relying on local school levies to fill holes in the state budget.

The Washington Education Association estimated that statewide districts spent $1.6 billion in levy dollars during the 2013-14 school year on the salaries of teachers and other school employees.

Data provided by the staff of Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, show local levies contributed an average of $60,000 per administrative salary and an average $10,000 per teacher and para-educator salary during the previous school year.

Under the high court ruling, it could be construed as a violation of the state Constitution to continue to pay those salaries out of local levy dollars instead of with money from the state budget.

“You can fix almost all of this by screwing around with property taxes,” Hunter explained.

As Kriss mentioned in the latest episode of our In Focus podcast, state Rep. Reuven Carlyle has a modest proposal to reconsider the state’s paramount duty:

In our state, the romantic image of strong funding from the state government has not been realized. Political impasse over generations has created a system with unconstitutional funding structures, relatively poor student outcomes and great inequality.

A case can be made that Washington’s top-down approach disconnects schools from their natural, strongest base of support—local families and communities.

He compares Washington’s method of funding K-12 with that of some of our global challenge states. We did the same in a report a few years ago: Comparative Analysis of School Funding. Carlyle also writes,

Today, early learning and higher education are more than ancillary, they are core to our desire to educate the whole child and whole person. We cannot have a system where “the paramount duty” is only K-12 and leave the other aspects of education as second class citizens. It doesn’t work for kids, parents, business or an educated civic society.

Speaking of higher education, Steve Mullin of the Washington Roundtable has a good op-ed on the topic:

Fortunately, in the last few years the Legislature has begun to address this problem by increasing higher education funding, especially in high-demand programs, and helping the institutions avoid additional tuition increases.

The next big challenge comes this legislative session.

The Washington Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision requires the legislature to significantly increase its investment in K-12. It will squeeze the state general fund. And, in a difficult budget environment, higher education – which doesn’t have the same constitutional or legal protections as other spending categories – could end up on the chopping block.

(See also our recent brief on higher education.)