Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe is So Full of Crap She Cries Brown Tears

The big thing that I noticed when the conference budget came out on Friday was the $60,000,000 cut to levy equalization, which was certainly better than what the Senate had initially proposed, but still worse than the House, which had been giving good indications that they were going to leave LEA alone. It's levy equalization money that allows our property-poor school districts to have a shot at offering anything even comparable to what a Mercer Island, Bellevue, or other districts with high tax bases can provide. It's a lifeline to poor districts in a way that class size reduction isn't, and let's be perfectly clear: when you cut LEA, you are cutting the districts that can least afford the hit.

So an amendment came up during the Senate debate last night; you can watch it here, and I'm pulling the quotes out of the closed captioning transcript. Sen. Mark Schoesler from the 9th LD, an area of the state (southeast Washington) where levy equalization really matters, lead off with this:
This measure restores levy equalization payments by increasing funding through a variety of sources. We take one learning improvement day, we reform bilingual education and manage to achieve the savings. I think this is important in that it's the property-poor districts that have levy equalization needs. They're not necessarily in northeast Washington, they may be in federal way, they may be in north central Washington, they may be a property-poor district with students of color and of need in the Yakima valley, but they all share one thing in common:
A levy dollar doesn't buy very much.

In a property-rich district, a dollar buys a lot. To get the same earning potential in a property-poor district, you might need six or seven dollars. This restores that.
This puts school districts on a level playing field whether they're in eastern Washington, west, north or south, it puts them on a level playing field and it has the means to pay for itself. I urge your support.
Maybe, maybe Sen. Schoesler over-reached when his caucus added in the piece about bilingual education, which is a hot-button issue that gets a lot of hackles raised. The point remains, though--levy equalization matters.

Then Senator McAuliffe made her response:

I ask the body to reject this amendment. When these - this levy equalization is being cut about 15%. With the federal dollars for title one and special education, these districts are almost whole. In fact, let me just cite one, which is Aberdeen. The levy equalization payment is $480,000. And they receive in special education money $768,000. So many of these districts will have those dollars restored through the federal stimulus dollars.
Let's set aside for a moment the fact that I can't find the document that she's citing anywhere, and it seems like if she's going to read figures into the public record that the public should be able to see those figures for themself.

We'll also ignore the fact that her home district, Northshore, will be absolutely uneffected by this cut because they already don't receive any levy equalization money.

And maybe later we'll talk about the fact that lowering levy equalization at the same time as the Senate has passed a bill to lift the levy lid for districts that take in excess money means that the gap between the rich districts and poor districts will get that much wider.

For now, let's focus on one key fact: levy equalization money can be used for ANYTHING. Programs, teachers, salary, transportation--anything. It's a great source of money that way in that it can fill in any hole in the district budget.

Title I money and Special Education money, on the other hand, can only be used for NARROW, LIMITED PURPOSES. You can't take sped money and use it to pay for an activity bus, or to reduce class size in kindergarten, or for a boost to the ASB.

So the money that Sen. McAuliffe is treating as equal is anything but. It's a nice comparison to make if you're trying to make it look like you didn't really cut anything, but it's an awful long ways from reality.

The reason that this particularly pisses me off is in light of the Basic Education Reform Bill that passed both the House and Senate and is now on its way to the Governor's desk for a signature. I fought against it because I hate what it could do to certification and the salary schedule, but such is life and now the battle turns to mitigating the impact of a bad, misguided bill. Senator McAuliffe took note of the divisiveness of the bill when she released her open letter to the education community, wherein you'll find this gem:
I have heard that this is the wrong bill and the wrong message at the wrong time. I have heard that it is an insult to our hard-working teachers and educators that come to work every day and are committed to providing every child with the opportunity to learn. I want to be clear – teachers are the single most important part of our educational system. This bill is not a commentary in any way about a failure of our teachers. It is a recognition that our teachers deserve better and a recognition that our state's definition of basic education has failed to keep pace with the evolving expectations of society and has failed our teachers.
Senator, YOU ARE THE STATE. You voted to take away money THIS YEAR from districts that are already teetering. You refused to look at bilingual education with a serious eye. You refused to cut the other LID day. You refused to freeze the salary schedule, or take additional money from the rainy day fund. Your caucus chickened out on sending a revenue package to the voters.


Millions of dollars will be funneled off to OSPI and their ilk to study changes to the system, changes that the state isn't bloody well likely to be able to afford until 2012 at the earliest. The idea of looking at school district consolidation to save money went away, probably because it's politically unpopular.

Where there's a will, there's a way. This education budget is the triumph of no-will.

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