Friday, January 02, 2009

Gregoire's Education Budget: How to Save Levy Equalization

(For more posts about Governor Gregoire's proposed education budget, try here and here.)

In her budget proposal Governor Gregoire suggests cutting the amount of money from the state for local levy equalization by 33%, which would have a profound impact on many of the smaller, property-poor districts here in Washington (and, for some reason, Spokane, but that's a topic for another day).

There's an awful lot of information available from the Office of Financial Management website, and if you poke around in the agency summaries section you can get enough numbers to keep you in Excel for the next decade. One of the interesting documents to me is on the compensation plan, wherein we can read that the increases in health benefits for K-12 employees are projected to cost $127,904,000.

The cuts to levy equalization are estimated to save $125,400,000.

I think you can see where I'm going here.

If we suspended the increase in health insurance benefits for the next two years and instead fully funded levy equalization, the only hit to the district budgets would then be the reduction in I-728 money. This is fair, because then at least every district is getting hit in the same way. If you cut levy equalization, though, a lot of districts that are already struggling are going to get hit in a way that the Bellevues of the world will not, and that doesn't help anyone.

You can't mention levy equalization without also mentioning Neal Kirby, the godfather of LEA; he wrote a great editorial for the Aberdeen Daily World on what exactly levy equalization is and why it matters.

And sure, ideally, education wouldn't take any sort of cuts. I think we need to deal in reality, though, and look for those areas that would cause the least harm. Levy equalization is not that area.

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