Monday, November 17, 2008

The Priorities of Government, the Priorities of Schools

Here in Washington State, "Priorities of Government" is a process by which the state identifies those spending decisions that need to be made, ranks them, and then only funds those most important programs that it can pay for. Introduced by Gary Locke in the early part of this decade, it was a big campaign issue when Governor Christine Gregoire and Senator Dino Rossi squared off this year for the Governor's office.

This year the state is facing a $2.3 billion $3 billion $3.5 billion budget hole which has to be balanced, and a large part of that is going to have to come out of the education budget, since it's the largest part of the state budget. You can do this a couple of different ways: by suspending planned spending increases (think COLA) or by cutting existing programs. I think this year we're pretty likely to see both.

You can find more blog chatter about the Priorities of Government here and here, and a list of what the Budgeting Office thinks matters and doesn't for schools at the first link above. It's interesting reading, particularly if you start at the end and see what they think absolutely should not be funded. Consider:

  • Leadership Internship Grants, $1.41 million dollars (91/92): There are 92 potential "purchases" on the education list, with 92 being the least important. This program here was #91, besting only the Reading Corps. I'd say this is a righteous cut; while it's nice for the people who want to become principals, there certainly isn't a shortage of people looking for school leadership positions, so why fund a program that doesn't have a real need attached to it?

    (I'm going to have more to say about this one at a later date. There will be cursing. This will also be a test of the political power of the AWSP.)

  • School Nursing Corp Restoration, $4.52 million (89/92): Again, who would argue with school nurses? Dr. Bergeson had a specific proposal for lowering the student:nurse ratio, and this proposal would go towards that ideal, but given the economic times....away it goes.

  • National Boards Oversight, $524,000 (87/92): This would provide "statewide coordination and oversight efforts" for those pursuing their National Board Certification, which seems completely unnecessary given that there are plenty of Universities that have programs in place to help people who want to go after the certificate. Why add more bureaucracy?

  • Professional Certificate Bonuses, $55.77 million (86/92): This would give a $3,500 bonus to any teacher who has gone through the process to earn their ProCert. The idea is Bergeson's baby--I first heard about it at a WERA conference back in 2006, with her name attached to it--but when the state forces people to get their ProCert it really doesn't have to back up the process with more money if it doesn't want to. I'd like to gently success they scrap ProCert period and try to add some efficiency to the system.
Governor Gregoire releases her budget next month; like last year, that will be a really good indicator about where things could go.

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