Thursday, December 18, 2008

Gregoire's Education Budget: Levy Equalization

(First in a series of serious looks at the education section of Governor Gregoire's budget, which means I have to drop the l33t speak and put away the lolgregoire pictures I made. Damn.)

A couple of weeks ago I posted about Local Effort Assistance (LEA), also known as Levy Equalization--the money that the state gives to those districts with lots of non-taxable land (state parks, prisons, etc.) to make up for the lost levy money. The thrust of that post was that cutting LEA works politically because so much more of it goes to Eastern Washington school districts, making it easy for your political power base to make the cut--Seattle doesn't get any LEA money, so what does Frank Chopp (Speaker of the House, out of Seattle) care? The Governor ordered a 4% reduction to LEA for this biennium to make up for the hole that has appeared, and in her budget proposal that cut's going to get deeper:

Reduction in levy equalization, which provides a state match to local school districts with higher-than average tax rates to raise a local levy (those districts are more “property poor” than average). For calendar years 2010 and 2011, allocations for levy equalization are reduced by 33 percent. This timing allows school districts to phase in the reductions over two school years. ($125.4 million GF-S)
Putting it off helps slightly, maybe, I guess, but I tinkered with the spreadsheet to see how much money that could cost Washington districts, and it ain't pretty:

  • Spokane: $3,998,849
  • Yakima: $3,357,764
  • Pasco: $2,535,265
  • Kennewick: $2,342,471
  • Evergreen: $2,193,321
The figure that I've used recently for the average cost of a teacher is $80,000; in real money, then, that's about 50 teachers in Spokane. For a district like mine ($442,000), it's about 4.5 positions out of 130 positions.

Now there's a lot of legitimate objections to be had here. #1 might be wondering why a decidedly urban district like Spokane is getting any LEA money. One would suppose, too, that Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown out of Spokane's 3rd LD would have something to say about a cut that could really hurt her home district. You could also offer that these cuts don't necessarily need to be staff cuts, as there are also other areas of the budget beyond salaries.
All well and good. My overarching concern, though, is that this isn't a cut that effects everyone equally. If you cut the class-size reduction money (that's the next post) you're at least being equitable; going after LEA, which was put in place to remedy a systemic injustice, just creates a different problem.

Watch to see what the legislature does with this, because it could be a hell of an albatross.

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