Clarifying the charter public schools debate, support for postsecondary credentials, and managing school budgets

We want to call your attention to three articles relevant to current education discussions in our state.

First, The Everett Herald endorses the Path to 70% Credential Attainment report we wrote about last week. The Herald editorial board writes

 Of those graduating high school in 2015, about 40 percent are expected to have career training or a college degree by the time they are 26. But that’s still not enough.

In order to meet the demand for qualified employees, 70 percent of Washington’s youths need those credentials by age 26.

Washington Roundtable, since the release of its initial report in 2016, has pushed for policy changes and investments by the Legislature, in the business community, public schools, trade schools, colleges and universities to meet that goal…

The Roundtable’s most recent report focuses on the need to increase enrollment in post-secondary programs. About 77 percent of the high school class of 2015 will enroll in college or career programs. That number also must increase to 95 percent. Increasing that percentage, the report recommends, requires better guidance of K-12 students in career opportunities and pathways, more convenient access to post-secondary programs and more financial assistance to high school graduates.

There’s more:

Emphasis on career and technical education has sometimes been criticized as an effort to draw students away from colleges and universities. That’s not the intent here, [Roundtable president Steve] Mullin said, because doing so wouldn’t increase the larger pool of those with degrees or credentials. But the Roundtable does want to see all students introduced and helped along career pathways that are the closest fit with their interests and talents.

There’s plenty here for all — lawmakers, state officials, employers, school districts, community and technical colleges, parents and students — to pick up a tool and start work.

The jobs will be there. Our kids have to be ready for them.

Right.

Second, in an op-ed in the Everett Herald, former Attorney General Rob McKenna and Patrick D’Amelio, head of the Washington State Charter School Association clarify a key issue in charter school funding in Washington,

The crux of the charter public school debate in Washington is no longer about financing. Washington’s updated Charter Schools Act, passed by a bipartisan Legislature in 2016, did just what the Herald Board asked — by creating a new funding mechanism for charter public schools in Washington state.

Additional speculation about the ampleness of funds simply distracts from the real question before the courts: Will they uphold the will of the voters, the Legislature and lower courts? The question lies not in the amount of money that is available should the sector boom, but whether or not our charter school law is constitutional. The voters of Washington, our state legislators, and the King County Superior Court certainly think so.

Charter public schools are financed by the lottery-funded Opportunity Pathways Account rather than the taxpayer-funded general fund, creating a separate stream of funding. Why is this necessary, when every other type of public school is financed from the General Fund? Our state constitution is clear that the general fund must fund our state’s common schools (the traditional public schools, governed by local school boards and funded in part from local school levies), but is also clear that the Legislature isn’t limited to providing just one form of public school.

There’s much more in the op-ed. We recommend reading it in its entirety. For more on the pending lawsuit, see our posts here and here.

Finally, the Seattle Times editorial board has some advice for local school districts as they pursue teacher contract negotiations in the wake of McCleary. 

The school year might be ending, but many districts and teachers unions across Washington are negotiating their first contracts since the Supreme Court approved the Legislature’s reforms in response to its 2012 McCleary decision.

Parents, administrators and teachers should remember that the school funding case was not just about more money for schools or teacher salaries. The school funding lawsuit also was about making sure every child in Washington gets a high-quality education that prepares them for college and career. Budgets and teacher contracts should support this ideal.

The editorial points out that the state’s response to McCleary provides ample funding for basic education (excepting special education, which the editorial board believes requires more money) and shouldn’t require a tough tradeoff between teacher pay and other school needs (supplies, transportation, technology and the like). Then it offers a warning.

School districts must be careful, however, not to commit more dollars to teacher contracts than they are receiving from the state. Under the new system, local voters will not be able to make up the difference with property-tax levies if contracts take school districts into the red.

Caution.

Seattle Times editorial writers draw conclusions from Seattle head tax retreat

Even as a lawsuit casts a bit of a shadow over the Seattle City Council’s head tax repeal last week, the Seattle Times editorial board draws from lessons from the controversy. An editorial identifies ten takeaways. We won’t go into all of them here; read the editorial. But we’ll call attention to a couple of editorial observations we find particularly important:

…the sleeping dragon that awoke was Seattle’s predominantly Democratic and progressive middle class. Fed up with slow progress on homelessness and fiscal irresponsibility, the populace turned out by the thousands to petition for a referendum. The message for Mayor Jenny Durkan and the council was they’d gone too far and weren’t trusted to wisely use additional funds. The council mooted the referendum with its repeal but still has much work to do restoring faith.

That seems right. Seattle voters didn’t change their political stripes and suddenly become anti-tax conservatives. They simply responded to what they saw as an overreach. 

Also this:

Seattle taxpayers, including businesses, are compassionate and generous about supporting those who are homeless.

What’s needed is a better return on that spending. Seattle and King County are spending $200 million yearly. Yet 52 percent of the regional homeless population of 12,112 was unsheltered, per January’s point-in-time count.

Editorial page editor Kate Riley adds this in a separate column:

Call this the age of the clueless politician.

How else to explain the whiplash reversal of the Seattle City Council on the head tax last week? Or the state Legislature’s screeching retreat on a bill to exempt itself from the state Public Records Act in February?

In both cases, elected officials had enacted measures that many of their constituents not only didn’t like but were angered by. Then they were surprised by daunting citizen backlash. The lesson is leaders need to bring their constituents along with them.

Again, the column is worth your time. Riley makes a telling point here:

…lost in the City Council members’ gnashing of teeth is some of the truth. They billed the head tax as a solution for homelessness that was recommended by a task force. Now, walk with me here because the nuance is important. The group was called the Progressive Revenue Task Force on Housing and Homelessness, and its goal was to find a tax on moneyed interests after a court sunk the council’s previous effort at an income tax.

In fact, initially, there was no specific homeless-solutions plan to fund. There was only the tax — and the details would be filled in later.

The inescapable conclusion: The search for a progressive tax to relieve homelessness was much more about the tax than it was the homelessness crisis.

Another positive revenue update: Tax collections now $189.4 million above February forecast.

Today’s update from the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council continues a positive trend.

Major General Fund-State (GF-S) revenue collections for the May 11 – June 10, 2018 col-lection period came in $104.0 million (3.9%) above the February forecast. Cumulatively, collections are now $189.4 million (2.7%) higher than forecasted.

The update notes the strong national economy.

This month’s data again indicated an expanding economy. The labor market was healthy, with a strong increase in new jobs despite a rise in job cut announcements. Manufacturing activity continued to expand, truck and rail traffic were up and consumer confidence remained at high levels. However, auto sales were weaker and residential construction activity weakened.

The U.S. economy added 233,000 net new jobs in May. Employment data for March and April were revised up by 15,000 jobs. Sectors with notable employment gains in May included retail trade (+31,000), health care (+29,000), construction (+25,000), professional and technical services (+23,000), transportation and warehousing (+19,000) and manufacturing (+18,000).

And Washington continues to thrive.

We have four months of new Washington employment data since the February forecast was released. Total nonfarm payroll employment rose 25,800 (seasonally adjusted) in Feb-ruary, March, April, and May, which was 1,800 more than expected in the forecast. As is usually the case, the majority of the employment increase was due to private, servicesproviding industries, which added 18,300 net new jobs in the four-month period. Con-struction employment grew 3,100 and manufacturing employment increased 1,400. Gov-ernment payrolls expanded by 2,800 in February, March, April, and May.

Washington’s unemployment rate inched down to 4.7% in May from 4.8% in April. May’s 4.7% rate was the lowest since June 2007 when it reached an all-time low of 4.6%. A year ago, in May 2017, the Washington unemployment rate stood at 4.8%.

As always, the ERFC packs a lot of information into these brief reports. 

Across the country, states are experiencing revenue growth, reports Governing magazine.

After two straight years of lackluster revenue growth, state finances are on the upswing thanks in large part to a stable economy and a one-time boost from December’s federal tax overhaul.

As fiscal 2018 comes to a close on June 30 in most states, total revenue growth for the year is estimated at 4.9 percent. That’s the best year since 2015, according to the latest state fiscal survey from the National Association of State Budget Officers (NASBO).

Now if we can just avoid a trade war…

Campaign submits 46,000 signatures to repeal Seattle head tax, citing uncertainty created by open meetings lawsuit

In the wake of a lawsuit charging the Seattle City Council violated the Open Public Meetings Act in preparing for Tuesday’s repeal of the city’s head tax, The No Tax on Jobs campaign decided to file petitions for a November referendum. Seattle Times reporter Lewis Kamb writes,

Hours after three trial lawyers sued the city of Seattle Thursday over the City Council’s abruptly called special meeting and vote this week to revoke a head tax on big businesses, an anti-tax campaign submitted the required signatures for a citywide referendum asking voters to repeal the measure, if necessary.

The No Tax on Jobs campaign opted to submit 46,372 signatures shortly before 4 p.m. Thursday, just in case the unrelated lawsuit’s contentions — that, in their haste to repeal the controversial ordinance, Mayor Jenny Durkan and a council majority “repeatedly violated” the state’s Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA ) — might invalidate Tuesday’s council vote to reverse the head tax.

Although, as Kamb reported yesterday, the lawsuit does not seek to repeal the head tax, there’s some uncertainty.

…the public-meetings law appears to indicate that if a court found the council had decided to approve its repeal ordinance in secret before Tuesday’s public meeting, that vote “shall be null and void.”

Katherine George, a Seattle lawyer who handles government transparency issues, said case law suggests it’s unlikely the repeal ordinance would be invalidated based on any potential private discussions before the public vote, however.

“Unlikely” is less than definitive, though, so…

“Out of an abundance of caution, the No Tax on Jobs Coalition decided today to file our nearly 46,000 petition signatures,” John Murray, a spokesman for the campaign, said in a statement. “Submitting the signatures ensures that we are on record regarding the jobs tax repeal.”

A source close to the campaign said the campaign and its lawyers believe the city’s repeal vote will stand, making any repeal referendum moot.

The city believes the tax has been repealed and, therefore, according to the Times, the city clerk will hold on to the petitions for now.

“We’ll keep them here” until further consultation with the City Attorney’s office, she said.

KIRO 7 reports,

On Thursday, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office distributed a letter from City Attorney Pete Holmes which assesses city officials’ actions and states, “we believe that it is likely that the courts would hold that the notice requirements of the OPMA (Open Public Meetings Act) were met.”

We have no basis for speculating on what the courts would do or how quickly. So we understand the No Tax on Jobs campaign’s decision to submit the petitions. Regardless, we think the head tax is gone for now.

Seattle Times business columnist Jon Talton writes that the city’s better off as a result of the repeal.

The misbegotten city tax on jobs, on top of the other taxes Seattle’s large businesses already pay, would have been a boon to the suburbs. They offer lower costs and less antagonism by politicians toward companies…

The jobs tax would have slowed overall growth — a pleasant reverie for some until the reality of collapsed revenues hits the city treasury. Small businesses, which depend on big ones, would be caught in cutbacks from their large customers. A defining stress test would come from a recession.

Talton makes a point that should not be overlooked. It’s the reason we wrote the tax is gone “for now.”

Too many Seattleites don’t know how good we have it — although the attempted jobs tax seems to have slapped many awake.

Whether they remain alert is the cynical gambit at least some at City Hall may be making. Eliminate the possibility of a ballot challenge to the tax, save my council seat next year, then bring back the jobs tax. It’s sad we have to wonder if that’s part of the calculus.

The saga continues.

Friday Roundup: Driverless vans, Vermont subsidizes remote workers, optimistic small businesses, preemption

There are always a few items we’ve read during the week that deserve more attention but don’t make it into our regular posts. So we bundle them for the Friday roundup.

Here’s this week’s bundle:

Seattle Times: Bellevue envisions a fleet of driverless vans to help commuters skirt congestion

Autonomous shuttle pilot projects are sprouting in myriad locations across the country, gauging people’s reactions and trying to increase their comfort with driverless transit.

Bellevue wants in, too.

The city has hired a manager of transportation technology partnerships who’s working on the early stages of what officials hope will eventually be a vanpool service of autonomous vehicles, scheduled and summoned by smartphone app.

The goal is to coordinate with the region’s big employers to offer a transit option that can serve suburban areas better than full-size buses or trains.

New Geography: Vermont subsidizes remote workers to move to state

Vermont, like many states, is suffering from demographic challenges. It has the fourth slowest population growth of any state since 2000…The state has been making a big push lately to market itself for residents. One of its initiatives is a program that will pay $10,000 to remote workers who move there.

…While at some level it’s understandable, this is also something of a sign of desperation.

Having said that, the idea of attracting remote workers who can choose to live anywhere is a good one for Vermont. This allows people who might like the Vermont lifestyle but aren’t necessarily a good fit for the Vermont employment market to still move there, if they have a location-independent position.

NFIB: Small business optimism index soars, continuing historic run, hitting several records in May 

The Small Business Optimism Index increased in May to the second highest level in the NFIB survey’s 45-year history. The index rose to 107.8, a three-point gain, with small businesses reporting high numbers in several key areas including compensation, profits, and sales trends.

“Main Street optimism is on a stratospheric trajectory thanks to recent tax cuts and regulatory changes. For years, owners have continuously signaled that when taxes and regulations ease, earnings and employee compensation increase,” said NFIB President and CEO Juanita Duggan.

Los Angeles Times: Radical plan to split California into three states earns spot on ballot

California’s 168-year run as a single entity, hugging the continent’s edge for hundreds of miles and sprawling east across mountains and desert, could come to an end next year — as a controversial plan to split the Golden State into three new jurisdictions qualified Tuesday for the Nov. 6 ballot.

If a majority of voters who cast ballots agree, a long and contentious process would begin for three separate states to take the place of California, with one primarily centered around Los Angeles and the other two divvying up the counties to the north and south. Completion of the radical plan — far from certain, given its many hurdles at judicial, state and federal levels — would make history.

Route Fifty: How Cities Can Respond When the State Legislature Says “No”

Preemption has a long legal history. In 1868, federal Judge John Dillon issued two court decisions comprising “Dillon’s rule,” later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, which holds “cities are creatures of the state.”

…And then there’s the recent trend of superpremption, where states not only take away local authority but penalize cities that attempt to defy the law. Preemption aficionado Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed legislation threatening to remove from office, fine and jail public officials that defied the state’s sanctuary cities ban.

The Daily News (Takko op-ed): At ecology, politics triumphs over science, permits – and jobs

For months, I’ve watched with growing concern as the state agency has stepped in and allowed politics to dictate the outcome of decisions that have solid scientific footing. The latest decision involves area oyster growers. Earlier this spring, the agency denied oyster growers at Willapa Bay and Grays Harbor the ability to spray a pesticide to kill burrowing shrimp. The shrimp have been linked to ruining oyster beds and suffocating the oysters.

Interestingly, the agency, using science, approved this same solution just three years ago. In 2015 the agency OK’d the use of the pesticide, calling it ecologically sound. But when it caught the attention of activists, who denounced use of the spray, the agency quickly reversed its course.

Will lawsuit alleging Seattle City Councilmembers violated Open Public Meeting Law affect head tax repeal, referendum?

The Seattle Times reports on a new lawsuit alleging city councilmembers violated state law in their rush to repeal the head tax.

Three trial lawyers sued the city of Seattle Thursday over the City Council’s abruptly called special meeting and vote this week to revoke a head tax on big businesses, alleging that in its haste to repeal the controversial ordinance, Mayor Jenny Durkan and a council majority “repeatedly violated” the state’s Open Public Meetings Act.

The attorneys — James Egan, identified as the case’s plaintiff, and Julie Kays and Lincoln Beauregard, who are representing Egan — contend in the lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court that “without any public debate, and with pressure of a repeal referendum growing,” Council President Bruce Harrell on Monday announced the special meeting to conduct the repeal vote.

ST reporter Lewis Kamb writes that the lawsuit relies heavily on an earlier Seattle Times news story. While seeking fines to be paid by the city, the lawsuit does not ask the the action taken at the hastily-arranged special meeting be repealed. But, he writes, it may have thrown the referendum petitioners into some uncertainty.

It’s unclear whether the lawsuit could affect whether the big business-bankrolled “No Tax on Jobs” campaign will opt to submit the required 17,0000 signatures needed by a 5 p.m. Thursday deadline to qualify a citywide referendum asking voters to repeal the tax.

A consultant for the campaign declined to comment Thursday.

Lamb quotes prominent open government advocates.

“I find all of this very disturbing,” Seattle attorney Michele Earl-Hubbard said Tuesday about the circumstances surrounding the City Council’s special meeting. “Not only does it appear that the mayor and a majority of the council colluded behind-the-scenes to reach some collective thinking on holding a meeting about this issue, but they’ve put it out there in a press release in black and white.”

Toby Nixon, board president of the nonprofit Washington Coalition for Open Government, has said the open-meetings law and prevailing case law have determined an illegal meeting can occur even when a quorum of a government body doesn’t meet in the same physical site.

It can also happen through a chain of phone calls or written messages, or when a third-party, such as a mayor or a surrogate, acts as a go-between to convey information to individuals so that a collective meeting of the minds occurs on an issue.

Interestingly,

All three of the lawyers now suing the city are opponents of the head tax, Beauregard said.

“We’re all three against it,” he said. “I mean, I disagree with every word that comes out of Kshama Sawant’s mouth, but she and the people she represents have a right to participate in a public process.”

In other head tax news, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat takes the city council to task for blaming everyone but themselves for the chaos of the past month.

Tuesday’s circus of a council hearing, at which the city backtracked on its misguided $275 per worker head tax, could best be described as a finger-pointing blame-fest. About everybody in Seattle was to blame for this humiliating political debacle, as it turns out. Except them.

Some on the council blamed “big business,” which was predictable. A few called out Amazon in particular. Kshama Sawant got the most personal about this, as is her specialty, bluntly declaring that, “Jeff Bezos is our enemy.”

Other council members insisted with great passion, voices rising in anger, that the city is in fact doing a great job on housing the homeless, and so has simply been misunderstood.

But most jarring, to me, was that they blamed you. Yeah, you, the witless public.

It’s a good read.

Washington Research Council releases report on education and workforce development to close skills gap in manufacturing

A new report from the Washington Research Council examines education and workforce development strategies for closing the skills gap facing manufacturers in our state.

As a state with a vibrant manufacturing sector, including leaders in aerospace, agriculture, maritime, and other technology-driven production, Washington has made significant investment in addressing the demand for skilled workers. Industry executives are working with state and local officials and educators to design programs to increase the postsecondary education attainment rate. An ambitious, but reasonable goal has been set to increase the number of Washington students attaining a postsecondary credential by age 26 from the current 31 percent of Washington students to 70 percent by 2030.

Much of the emphasis in this paper addresses strategies to meet near-term demand for production workers, positions which often do not require a four-year degree. There are many paths to career employment in manufacturing: Apprenticeships, certification in skilled trades, two-year and four-year degrees all play a critical role in preparingworkers for the opportunities a vibrant economy offers. As individuals’ careers evolve,employees will often experience demands for additional training and education, from onsite workplace programs to post-graduate degrees. And some with four-year degrees may choose to supplement their education through apprenticeship or trade programs.

As the WRC writes, the job opportunities in manufacturing in Washington abound now and are growing. 

In 2016, 286,272 workers were employed in manufacturing in Washington, an industry with above average wages. Average annual wages for all industries statewide are $59,090; manufacturing jobs pay an average of $74,632 (26.3 percent higher).

Obtaining the skills required for manufacturing careers involve an inclusive, all-of-the- above approach. It begins with opening up the pathways to postsecondary trainingand education, including boosting the state’s high school graduation rate. Washingtonis making encouraging progress, through the Career Connect Washington Task Force, Workforce Training and Education Coordinating Board, career-focused programs at the community and technical colleges, apprenticeships, and more. Closing the skills gap requires maintaining both a sense of urgency and a close partnership with industry to guarantee that training and education programs align with demand.

Earlier this week we wrote about a new report from the Washington Roundtable and Partnership for Learning. Their research demonstrated that, while Washington is making progress in boosting the postsecondary credential rate, swifter progress is needed.

  • Among Washington high school students, the credential attainment rate by age 26 will go from 31% for the high school class of 2006 to an estimated 40% for the high school class of 2015.
  • To reach the 70% credential attainment goal by the high school class of 2030, Washington must more than double the average annual growth rate in credential attainment – going from 0.9% per year to 2%.

There are many paths to obtaining the necessary credentials. As the WRC writes,

The key is making sure that no path is prematurely foreclosed, no opportunity for advancement precluded because the necessary training and education is not available.

For Washington students, workers, and employers, closing the skills gap is critical. We are encouraged by the progress being made and the attention being given this urgent priority.

As expected, Seattle City Council repeals head tax on 7-2 vote. Next steps uncertain.

The Seattle City Council voted to repeal the controversial head tax, after an hour of a rowdy public hearing. The Seattle Times reports,

In a stunning reversal without parallel in Seattle’s recent political history, the City Council voted 7-2 Tuesday to repeal a controversial head tax on large employers like Amazon.

Mayor Jenny Durkan plans to sign the repeal into law.

The vote, ending a raucous special meeting called by Council President Bruce Harrell, came less than a month after the council voted 9-0 to approve the tax of $275 per employee, per year to help fund housing and services for homeless people.

The meeting was marked with chantings and sign-waving, with several speakers escorted from chambers for contempt. 

As the council members voted, they were drowned out by activists who chanted, “Housing is a human right.”

Councilmembers voting to repeal the tax said they still supported it, but felt they would not be able to prevail in a November referendum. And they pledged to continue to seek new revenues to fund homeless services.

…Councilmember Lisa Herbold said she felt like crying but would side with the majority of her colleagues because the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce had managed to persuade “the vast majority” of voters to oppose the tax.

Herbold said she lost hope over the weekend after seeing poll results and talking with advocates. Better to retreat now rather than see voters cancel the tax in November after a bitter, monthlong struggle, she said.

Seattle Met reports that the Chamber welcomes the repeal and will work constructively to identify workable strategies to address homelessness.

“The announcement from Mayor Durkan and the City Council is the breath of fresh air Seattle needs,” Chamber CEO Marilyn Strickland said. “Repealing the tax on jobs gives our region the chance to addresses homelessness in a productive, focused, and unified way.”

As the Times reports, advocates of the tax were angered, betrayed, and disappointed by the council’s reversal.

Anitra Freeman, whose Women in Black group pays respects to people who die on the streets while homeless, described herself as heartbroken Tuesday.

“I thought we had at least five courageous people on the City Council — and I was wrong,” she said at a rally withCouncilmember Kshama Sawant before the meeting.

Sawant and Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda were alone in voting against the repeal, which Sawant called a “cowardly betrayal.” She condemned the action as bowing down to big businesses and as coming with “lightning speed” and “zero accountability” to working people.

…Many remarks were impassioned, with some who went to the microphone attacking the council members as spineless and vowing to vote them out at the next opportunity.

Mayor Jenny Durkan says she’ll sign the bill.

Geek Wire reports on reactions from Amazon and other tech leaders.

“Today’s vote by the Seattle City Council to repeal the tax on job creation is the right decision for the region’s economic prosperity,” Amazon VP Drew Herdener said in the statement. “We are deeply committed to being part of the solution to end homelessness in Seattle and will continue to invest in local nonprofits like Mary’s Place and FareStart that are making a difference on this important issue.”

It’s the first time Amazon has publicly supported the City Council since it began discussing a tax of about $500 per employee, per year on companies with more than $20 million in annual revenue…

Scott Moore, founder and CEO of Ad Lightning and a member of the Clyde Hill City Council, said “the city’s political leadership needs a wake up call.”

“The tech industry is highly adaptable,” he went on. “If Seattle becomes inhospitable, businesses will relocate to friendlier locales. But I would like to see leadership on the homeless issue from the CEOs of major employers as well as from political leaders.”

More coverage of the vote in The Lens