Two Starkly Different Visions For K-12

Two Starkly Different Visions For K-12
With Senate Republican and House Democratic bills both out now, negotiations will accelerate toward a final consensus on a K-12 funding plan for Washington. Expect tough sledding, and a final vetting from voters statewide, this coming fall. Photo: nwais.org.

At a hearing of the Senate Ways and Means Committee Monday, January 30, lawmakers further staked out their ground in what will be protracted negotiations this session on K-12 education funding, as a new Senate Republican bill got a hearing. Also yesterday, a competing House Democratic bill was filed. Their visions are starkly different.

Driving the action is a State Supreme Court ruling, in the McCleary case, mandating a shifting of more K-12 basic ed support to the state from local school districts.

Incentives, Outcomes, Cost Controls

The Senate Republican plan in SB 5607 sets firm targets on improvements around graduation rates, literacy, math, and readiness for post-secondary education. It replaces widely disparate local school tax levies with a new local property tax set by the state, that would increase per-pupil spending in some districts, but lower it in others.

It would raise the statewide minimum salary for K-12 teachers by almost $10,000 to $45,000. An additional $50,000 in pay is provided for each of the top 2 percent of teachers, based on performance measures, and $25,000 for each of the top 5 percent. SB 5607 also enables principals to fire poorly performing teachers, and would provide a $10,000 maximum housing allowance for educators who live in high-cost areas.

The Senate GOP proposal repeals a classroom size reduction measure approved by voters in 2014 that would cost almost $1.9 billion the state does not have, and forestalls teacher cost-of-living salary hikes requiring another $1.4 billion in the next four years.

Salary Hikes

Introduced Monday on the heels of the Senate GOP package, HB 1843 from House Democrats would set the same minimum salary for new teachers, but also seeks statewide average salaries of $70,824 for K-12 basic ed teachers, and $117,159 for K-12 administrators, by 2019-20.

The House bill would slow the decrease of maximum local school tax levies from 28 percent of total state and federal funding, to 24 percent by 2021, instead of by next year as under current law. The basis for the calculations is changed, as well; and HB 1843 seeks to lower teacher-student ratios.

Sweeping Tax Hikes, Or Another Approach?

Further details on the how the Democrats would fund their K-12 plan were not immediately available, but Democratic Governor Jay Inslee has proposed major tax hikes to fund education under the high court’s McCleary directive; including an income tax on capital gains, a carbon tax, and an increase to the gross receipts tax on businesses. Democratic members of a special K-12 funding task force have stated in a report that they would be looking toward such sources.

The GOP’s SB 5607 would replace the prototypical school funding model with a per-pupil spending system. It sets baseline state per-pupil spending at $10,000. However, if total state, local, and federal funding does not add up to $12,500, the state will make up the difference. The bill includes additional spending for low-income, special education, and homeless students.

It would also replace school district maintenance and operation levies with a local levy rate of $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed property value, before reducing it to $1.20 and replacing the difference with state revenue above and beyond projections, something which occurs almost every biennium.

Specifying Performance Targets

The Senate majority’s bill also creates targets for improved academic outcomes.

SB 5607 sets as K-12 aims for 2020 in Washington:

  • Increase the high school graduation rate to 89 percent from 78 percent;
  • Increase students meeting third grade literacy standards to 86 percent from 54 percent;
  • Increase students meeting the standard for eighth grade math to 72 percent from 48 percent;
  • Increase high school graduates not requiring college remedial courses to 93 percent from 61 percent.

The performance targets complement goals outlined in a recent study by the Washington Roundtable, which represents major employers in the state. The report anticipates 740,000 new job openings in the state over the next five years.

Although the Roundtable study found a “universal preference” among Washington employers to hire state residents, it noted that less than a third earn a postsecondary credential by the age of 26. The Roundtable wants to see that increase to 70 percent by 2030.

Roundtable Vice President Neil Strege told panel members that SB 5607 “stacks up pretty well. If we’re going to achieve” goals set in the Roundtable study, “we’re going to need significantly better outcomes in our schools.”

Closing The Opportunity Gap

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal told panel members “without question, this (bill) begins to close the gap” between low income districts and high income districts. Addressing education opportunity inequity is “one of the most powerful things we can do to create student achievement.”

However, he added that while he favors setting targets for better student achievement, the $700 million in new spending that committee staff estimate would result from the new bill, isn’t enough to meet those goals. “We need more than what’s in this proposal,” he said.

Ranker: ‘Winners And Losers’

Ways and Means Ranking Assistant Minority Member Sen. Kevin Ranker (D-40) said, “there’s winners and losers in this bill.” Of the state’s 295 school districts, 50 would get less funding than currently. The other 245 districts would receive more funding per student.

SB 5607’s sponsor, Ways and Means Chair Sen. John Braun (R-20), responded that the bill would result in a $400 million tax cut for the state, because total annual levy money generated would drop from $2.4 billion $2 billion.

However, the financial impact would depend on which school district you live in, said Ranker. “Some pay considerably more, and some pay considerably less,” he said.

Wilcox: Bipartisanship Will Be Crucial

House Republican Floor Leader J.T. Wilcox (R-2) said of the Senate GOP package “this may not be a perfect vote,” but in a similar vein, the legislature would not have approved its historic $16 billion, 2015 transportation package without serious compromise on the part of a number of Republicans, who helped to provide the margin for passage despite resistance from some constituents.

Now, Wilcox added, the shoe is on the other foot and the Senate GOP has delivered “an early and comprehensive solution” that should form the basis for developing consensus.

Further negotiations are expected. The Senate and House joint K-12 funding plan which emerges will require approval by Inslee, and almost certainly, voters as well, in a Fall, 2017 statewide ballot measure. How the final plan plays among school district leaders and taxpayers in King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, where the bulk of the state’s votes lie, will be a deciding factor.

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