School leaders relieved, disappointed over budget deal
School districts welcome the new dollars they will receive under the state budget, but also say lawmakers didn’t go far enough toward fully funding public education.
Seattle Times education reporter
School districts in the Seattle area, after years of cutting programs and services, welcome the $1 billion in new funding they will receive in the state budget lawmakers approved on Friday.
That amount represents the biggest increase in state funding public-school districts have received in some time — equaling, on average, an additional $500 per student for the upcoming school year, and another $370 for the year after that.
With those dollars, many more kindergartners will go to school for a full day. More low-income students in kindergarten and first grade will have classes with just 20 students.
The state will, by the end of the biennium, cover the full costs of busing students to and from school, and pick up more of the costs of materials, supplies, heat and insurance.
Still, many district leaders are not celebrating. Instead, their reaction is a mix of relief that a budget deal is finally done, and disappointment that it didn’t go further.
That’s because even $1 billion falls short of what many legislators promised at the beginning of the session, what a legislative task force recommended and what the state Supreme Court may expect.
Under the landmark school-funding lawsuit known as the McCleary case, the court ruled that the Legislature was failing to sufficiently provide for the education of all students and gave lawmakers a 2018 deadline to pay for programs and services estimated to cost $3 billion to $4 billion per biennium.
“We have some miles to go,” said Nick Brossoit, superintendent of the Edmonds School District and president of the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS), the group that brought the McCleary lawsuit.
“There is some degree of appreciation,” Brossoit said, “but it took a court order and years just to get this, and we’re still not close to what is necessary.”
Many teachers also are upset that the budget doesn’t include the cost-of-living raises that voters approved more than a decade ago. Lawmakers, for the third time in a row, suspended an initiative, passed in 2000, that is supposed to guarantee those raises for teachers each year.
The loss of that $320 million, along with increases in health costs and other changes, amounts to a tax on public-school teachers, said Rich Wood, spokesman for the Washington Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. The Legislature didn’t really add $1 billion to education, he added, it just shifted some money from one area to another.
“It takes money away from teachers and other school employees,” he said. “There is no way around that.”
Just how the budget will affect individual districts is not yet clear.
Many districts say they’re analyzing it and new requirements that go along with the new dollars.
The Highline School District, for example, is happy to receive more money for all-day kindergarten classes, which it had decided to offer with or without help from the state. Now seven of the 10 schools that will offer full-day classes for the first time will receive state funding to do so, said Susan Smith Leland, assistant superintendent for finance and business services.
But Smith Leland said she’s still working to determine whether the help with kindergarten classes will be offset by changes in other areas.
In Seattle, Assistant Superintendent Duggan Harman said school officials had hoped for more money, but the state budget will allow the district to avoid the big cuts in programs and positions it has made for the past five years.
Marie Sullivan, government-relations director for the state’s association for school directors, said her members’ disappointments included the fact that there was only $15 million set aside to train teachers and principals in the new teacher-performance-evaluation systems that districts must soon put in place. That will allow just a day of training per person, she said.
Dan Steele, government-relations director for school administrators, said he wonders what will happen next biennium when, to meet the court’s order, the Legislature will have to look at adding another $2 billion to $3 billion to the public-school budget.
“The ramp,” he said, “is that much more steep.”
Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @LShawST