Monday, March 12, 2007

The Conley Report, Part VI: A Brief History of School Finance

Next in a continuing look at the Conley Report, Washington’s very own school adequacy funding study. The full report can be found here.


I can remember the names of two judges from my Washington State History class many years ago: Judge Boldt, who had the unpopular decisions regarding Indian fishing rights, and Judge Doran, the school guy.

Section 1.3 of the Conley Report is “The History of Washington School Finance,” a history that would be incomplete without Judge Doran. This is a dry section, so I’ve included some links that can give you more background if school finance happens to be your kink:

1974: The first school funding lawsuit, Northshore School District v. Kinnear. An important idea established here is that the school system should be, “one in which every child has free access to certain minimum and reasonably standardized educational and instructional facilities and opportunities.”

1975: The Miller Report finds that state spending hasn’t kept pace with inflation, class size reduction, and special education costs. Doesn’t that sound familiar?

1976: Seattle School District No. 1 vs. State, better known as the first Doran decision. This established the principle that local levy funds should only be used for enrichment programs, not basic education, which was one of the points made in the special education lawsuit. Doran also tackled the “paramount duty” clause of the state constitution, ruling that meant the state should have a system that, “embraces broad educational opportunities needed in the contemporary setting to equip our children for their role as citizens and as potential competitors in today’s market as well as in the marketplace of ideas.” Even then, the world was flattening.

1977: The Basic Education Act is passed by the legislature, along with the Levy Lid Act. Under the Levy Lid Act districts levy capacity was supposed to be no more than 10% of their general fund, but in 1989 (and several times since) the Legislature raised the limit. In 1980-1981 8.0% of total operating revenues came from levy funds; in 2004-2005, that had climbed to 15.99%.

1983: Doran II! The state cut $200 million from basic ed during the recession and were promptly smacked down by the judge, who ruled:
  • Special education is basic education
  • Transportation (for some) is basic education
  • ESL, vocational programs, and remedial programs could all fall under that basic education umbrella

If something was basic education, its budget could not be cut to solve revenue problems. You can see some of the wording here still popping up in the dialogues we have today.

1988: Doran III! Here the Judge looked specifically at the special education funding formula, ruling that funding based on average costs was unfair. This was the birth of the safety net and the 12.7% cap, both of which went through the legislature in 1995.

1991: Booth Gardner convenes the Governor’s Council on Education Reform and Funding. The EALRs and the WASL are born.

2000: I-728 is passed with an impressive 72% yes vote. We’re required to do a parent survey every year to see how they want us to spend the money, and every year we’ve done it it’s been overwhelming for class size reduction. I-732 also passes, guaranteeing annual cost-of-living increases for teachers, but it is suspended in 2003 because salary isn’t considered a part of basic education.

2006: Washington Learns.....or
do they?.

The remainder of section 1.3 looks at the current state of ed financing in Washington, along with an overview of past studies that contributed to the discussion. Section 1.4 discusses the methodology Conley used for the report, and section 1.5 is a review of adequacy funding studies from around the country. In section 2 Conley begins drawing recommendations out of the different models he ran; we’ll pick up the series with that piece tomorrow,

2 Comments:

Anonymous christie said...

Please do not use the Northshore School Dist. as your only resource on special ed funding. We, the Wa State Special Ed Coalition (WSSEC) highly disagree with their "spin" and we have a great deal of factual info. on our own website at www.wssec.org. We are the org. who filed the last lawsuit, Wa State Special Ed Coalition v. State of Wa that was decided in 1987/88. You are welcome to refer to our website.

9:28 PM  
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5:25 AM  

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