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Originally published Saturday, November 8, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Task force looks for school funding

The Washington task force charged with finding a way to adequately pay for state education is getting down to the nitty-gritty next week...

The Associated Press

The Washington task force charged with finding a way to adequately pay for state education is getting down to the nitty-gritty next week, trying to decide what to do with five different proposals that are all big on ideas but slim on ways to pay for them.

The task force has about a month to decide what to ask the Legislature to do to improve student achievement and graduation rates without bankrupting state government.

In the meantime, its members have five proposals on the table. They come from: the superintendent of public instruction, a group of lawmakers, a coalition of education stakeholders, the League of Education Voters and the chairman of the task force.

Committee members expect the final result will be some combination of the ideas on the table, but even after half a year of study and deliberations the path ahead is not clear.

"School funding in our state is extremely complex," said Jim Kowalkowski, superintendent of the Davenport School District in Lincoln County and a member of the Basic Education Finance Joint Task Force. "It's like an 800-pound onion."

Most of the proposals are missing an important element: How would the state pay for the smaller classes, better paid teachers, more help for struggling students, bonuses for meeting testing goals, etc.?

The state uses sales, business and property taxes to pay 84.3 percent of what it costs to educate Washington's 1 million schoolchildren. The other 15.7 percent comes from local levies and some federal money, primarily for education of special-needs children.

Most state dollars go to teacher salaries. The state also matches local bond money for school construction. About 40 percent of the state's general fund goes to education.

As a group, the proposals offer a variety of ideas:

• Most add classroom time for students and more hours of pay for teachers — up to 260 extra hours of pay a year. Some proposals support the state Board of Education's plan to require 24 credits for high-school graduation and others pay teachers for more planning time.

• All the proposals would decrease class sizes, with a special effort in the younger grades. Many would set new formulas for determining how many librarians and school counselors and other certified staff other than teachers are required in each school.

• The proposals offer a variety of approaches for changing the amount teachers are paid, including one idea that sounds a lot like merit pay. One proposal recommends statewide negotiations for teacher contracts.

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• Several proposals recommend setting salaries according to regional costs of living.

• One proposal calls for signing bonuses for highly qualified teachers in hard-to-serve areas. Another calls for student loan forgiveness for some teachers.

Where will all this money come from? Some proposals are completely silent on the subject, including the plan designed by outgoing schools chief Terry Bergeson and her staff.

Others call for increasing the levy limit so school districts can raise more money on their own.

One proposal, written by a bipartisan group of state lawmakers, comes right out and says education should be getting a bigger percentage of state tax dollars, calling for an eventual return to 50 percent of the general fund.

"We're at the end of the runway," said state Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, who is a member of the task force.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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