Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Washington Education Week #8: More News That's Bad News Edition


We've just about reached the halfway point of the legislative session, and it's shaping up to be a beaut. I've got $5 that says they don't finish on time; any takers?



Item #1: The Tax Man Co....you know what, that's been done. Wednesday's vote to suspend I-960 made for some great viewing on TV Washington this morning as Ross Hunter's House Finance Committee took it up. On one side the Taxed Enough Already believers; on the other, an alliance of social service advocates.

As the always excellent Bill Lyne of Western Washington University points out, though, talking about how to raise taxes revenue is pretty meaningless until they get the votes together to do it, and I'm not sure how long it will take them to get there.

Or consider my favorite issue, levy equalization. Everyone agrees that LEA is important and we need to keep that lifeline available for property-poor school districts, but with the budget deficit ballooning to $2.8 billion dollars you would either have to cut $142 million dollars from somewhere else to save LEA, or you have to come up with that much more revenue, particularly if they do raise the levy lid (see below).

In short, even if they do suspend I-960 and get more income coming in, there are still going to be cuts, and they could be pretty terrible for the schools. Speaking as a union president who lost 5 jobs last year, I'm terrified of what the future could bring. Calculated Risk says that there could still be a layoff crisis coming in the states; will Washington teachers be a part of that?
(Aside: over at Sound Politics, Stefan Sharkansky blames part of the deficit on teacher union contracts, because apparently the budget office didn't understand how exactly layoffs work. #1, that says a lot about the stupidity of the people who put the budget together if they don't understand who gets laid off. #2, any time you brush even remotely close to an argument for laying off the most highly paid teachers first, union guys like me win. I'm looking at you, Marguerite Roza.)
(Aside #2: Threatening to kill your legislators isn't a really effective way to make your point.)


Item #2: On the other hand, the People seem to be OK with school taxes. It was a great day for levies statewide on Tuesday. My own district passed a $17 million dollar bond measure which will allow us to add on to two buildings and close down a third, and that was the story all over. More from the Senate Democrats here and the League of Education Voters here.

The simple majority made a difference, as the LEV points out. 66 levy issues passed with between 50% and 60% yes, including 49 of the all-important M&O levies. More from the Washington Education Association, including a wider look at the revenue picture, here and Goldy at Horse's Ass here.

I also note that Kent passed two different levies, which is important given that they had a painful strike this past fall. Bellevue, who had their significant troubles in the fall of 2008, passed their levy with a 66% yes vote. For all the talk about strikes turning communities against teachers, it hasn't played out in these two cases. Battle Ground passed their levy as well; they were talking about financial insolvency if they didn't.


Item #3: What are liberal and democratic values, anyhow? A passel of legislators came out at the end of the week and proposed an increase in the sales tax to help the budget deficit. The Washington Budget and Policy Center says that it could save jobs; the EFF says that it will increase unemployment.

The struggle I'm having is this: in 2003, it was said that Washington State has the absolute most regressive tax system in the country. This was echoed just last November and during the debate on I-1033. While I certainly don't want to see these cuts to eldercare, children's health, and public education, taking the money to save those programs out of the hides of those who can least afford it feels like terrible, terrible public policy, especially when you take the unemployment rates into consideration as well.

If we, by which I mean progressives, are trading on our values for 30 pieces of silver, then we've already lost the discussion.


Item #4: Putting the Equality back in Levy Equalization. Levy Equalization has the profile that it does here in Washington primarily thanks to the work of one man: Neal Kirby, a former legislator from the 7th who now serves as a school principal in Centralia. If you've read an article about levy equalization, it's probably from Neal Kirby. If you've gotten an email about levy equalization, it's probably from Neal Kirby. He's one of the most gifted and passionate organizers you're ever going to find on any issue, and those of us in property-poor school districts all owe him a debt of gratitude.

That said, HB2893 is a divisive piece of legislation. It raises the levy lid from 24% to 28%, while at the same time raising the state's percentage of levy equalization from 12% to 14%. In Neal's reasoning that only widens the disparity between rich and poor districts, and he's absolutely correct. Here in my portion of Eastern Washington only 7 out of 60 area districts would benefit from the lid lift, but they would benefit to the tune of millions upon millions of dollars, and that's an awfully hard thing to walk away from.

What's interesting is that, while there were members of the House who voted against the bill because of the equity issue, none of them offered amendments to fix that problem. That seems odd. Further, there is a fiscal note attached to the bill--it'll cost another $26 million in this bienium--and while that seems small given the $2.8 billion dollar hole we're facing, it's not chump change either.

This is perhaps the most important fight of this legislative session, especially given how many school districts are already on the financial brink. More from the PSE of Washington here and the Seattle PI here.


Item #5: Judge Doran Erlick says that the state is underfunding education; the state says, "Yes, we know" and carries on unabated. Long ago, on February 4th, King County Superior Court Judge John Erlick looked at all the accumulated evidence, analyzed where the state says that the schools need to be, and said, "Well, duh, you're obviously underfunding education."

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown (D-Spokane) popped up on TV Washington the night of the decision, and after they got her a booster seat she stared down Austin Jenkins and said, "Yep, the schools are underfunded!" A bunch of other legislators (notably, Ross Hunter and Skip Priest) issued statements saying, "Good Golly, we sure are verklempt about all that underfunding!" Everyone seems to agree, sure enough, that the schools are underfunded.

But, as Goldy points out, whinging without working isn't going to do anything to solve the problem we're looking at. Austin Jenkins makes much the same point over at Crosscut. Randy Dorn, who is an ineffectual idiot, can stand tall and yell to the heavens that this is a landmark decision, but when OSPI is pissing away hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants and unproven programs, he doesn't have any sort of moral authority on the issue.

The Northwest Education Law Center here, The Advance here, The League of "Education" Voters here and here, and a useful Google search here.

(Aside: It feels like Governor Gregoire is backing next Governor Rob McKenna into a bit of a corner here; if he doesn't appeal the decision he's got the state on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending, which isn't exactly going to play well to his base. If he does appeal the decision, he loses a lot of his credibility as a centrist. Could be a fun dynamic to watch.)


Bits and pieces:

  • I laughed. Then, I laughed again.

  • Watching the State Senate when Sen. Rosa Franklin is serving as President Pro Tem is mind-numbing.

  • Music teachers are meeting in Yakima this weekend, and they're not too concerned with the state budget according to the article. Also in Yakima, they're closing the School for the Arts. Just sayin'.

  • I don't know much about Maria Goodloe-Johnson as a superintendent, but I do know that she's got to be one of the most politically tone deaf people in the business today.

  • Mike Antonucci hates school consolidation.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

0 Comments:

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home