Monday, December 06, 2010

The Budget Proposals and Education

The fun thing to watch last week was the rollout of the budget proposals from the 5 corners (House and Senate Democrats, House and Senate Republicans, plus the Governor) as efforts to deal with the current $1.1 billon dollar budget shortfall start to ramp up. With Legislative Assembly Days going on this week there's going to be a ton of discussion, and maybe a special session if things can get settled; what could that mean for the schools?

The Governor's Budget Proposal

Governor Gregoire rolled out her ideas a couple of weeks ago, which is appropriate in her position as chief executive. The school implications, and they aren't pretty:
  • Her proposal take the federal teacher jobs money that was passed in August and directs it into more of a general-fund role. This puts her in good company nationally, sure, but as even the Evergreen Freedom Foundation is pointing out, that's not what that money was for. That said, it's $208 million dollars, so I understand the temptation.
  • $51 million dollars in cuts to higher education, including $26.4 million dollars in cuts to the already overflowing community college system. This, sadly, is only a preview of what's likely to come in the next legislative session.
  • An $18 million dollar mid-year cut to levy equalization. This is money that school districts have already budgeted; arguably, it's already spent.
  • Eliminating the K-4 class size enhancement, another retroactive hit that saves the state $81.5 million by blowing giant holes in school district budgets.
  • Eliminating highly capable funding to save $7 million.
  • And finally, something that's not really a cut but is the kind of budget sophistry that drives people nuts, the June K-12 apportionment (basically, the money paid out to the school districts) would be moved from June 30th to July 1st. What that does is take it off the books for the 2010-2011 fiscal year (which ends June 30th) and moves it into the 2011-2013 budget, so there's no real savings here--it's simply a matter of where the hole will be. Publicola wrote more about it here.
Senate Republicans Lead by Sen. Joe Zarelli of Ridgefield, the Senate Republicans list is nicely color-coded and differs from the Governor in some interesting ways:
  • They also would use the EdJobs money to fill the hole.
  • Last year there was a bit of a stink on the Senate floor when a proposal came to use WEA health care money for state purposes. I don't know nearly enough about this to be able to speak to it, but the figure being tossed around is $100 million dollars.
  • An item that really jumps out is the proposal to lower the levy equalization percentage from 14% to 12%. It just went up this past year as part of a compromise to raise the levy lid, and now Sen. Zarelli's proposal would undo that gain. This would save the state $21 million immediately and $113 million going forward into the next budget. Even Sen. Zarelli admits this is a tough sell, but these are tough times, especially for LEA.
  • The Senate Republicans budget also eliminates funding for all-day kindergarten IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SCHOOL YEAR in order to save $22.6 million dollars. The note with the suggested cut says that there's "very little value to all-day K"; I guess it depends on the research you look at.
The Senate Republicans also concur with many of the other program cuts that the Governor proposed to OSPI, but they raise a point about maintenance of effort that could be troubling.

House Republicans This'll be editorializing on my part, but I have to say that I'm pretty disappointed in what the House Republicans released for their contribution. Where the Senate Repbulicans had four pages with numbers and projections, and the House Democrats (see below) had more detail than anyone, the House Republicans have....a letter from Rep. Gary Alexander that barely gets to two pages. He agrees with suspending "certain K-4 enhancements", and echoes the Senate Republicans in eliminating full-day kindergarten. That's pretty much it. I was disappointed in them last year for not releasing their own budget proposal, and I'm disappointed in them this time around for not really seeming to be engaged. It's troubling, especially when you get down to....

The House Democrats This is what a proposal looks like, and some of it looks oddly familiar. The House Democrats basically when through the entire budget and took the axe to a ton of categorical programs; highlights from an education perspective:
  • Their budget makes a much steeper reduction to the State Need Grant, saving a total of $33 million.
  • Their version also spares the State Deaf and State Blind schools from the Governor's proposed 6.3% across the board reductions, about an $800,000 difference.
  • The Department of Early Learning is also spared, a $1.3 million dollar addition to what the Governor proposed.
  • They also take the EdJobs money, which is common to every budget proposal so far.
  • In a good news/bad news deal, the House Democrats wouldn't make any cuts to levy equalization. Instead, they completely eliminate the K-4 enhancement money. That may be fairer--a cut to LEA only hurts certain districts, while a cut to K-4 gets everyone--but it's also a bigger pill to swallow.
  • They also propose a cut to the salary bonuses for National Board Certified teachers, which is particularly painful when they invest an awful lot of money into the process to begin with. By their math, it saves the state $9,000,000.
The Senate Democrats have yet to release their ideas. That's disappointing, too. The trouble with all this legislatively is that while cutting small programs might be easy enough, the real savings comes from the very toughest choices (all-day K, levy equalization) that I don't know they could get done in a special session. The Governor says she doesn't want to call them in if there's not an agreement (a challenge that WashACE says she should accept), but I can't say I blame her--the special session earlier this year took the full 30 days, and I can't see why this one would be any different.

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