Tri-City Herald editorial endorses key elements of Senate education funding and reform plan

The Tri-City Herald editorial board has endorsed major elements of the Senate GOP school funding plan. Noting that Senate Republicans and House Democrats have produced competing proposals, the editorial says,

…the Senate’s plan to eliminate the reliance on local levy money to finance schools and teacher pay hits the bull’s eye.

The editorial steps through the details of the Senate plan,

Senate Bill 5607 includes a course correction that would bring balance to the state. School districts would retain some authority to use local tax money for extra programs, but teacher salaries and other basic school needs would be covered at the state level through a property tax swap.

Under the GOP plan, a new property tax of $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed property value would be imposed statewide, raising about $2 billion in revenue over the next two years.

As we noted earlier, some of the estimates associated with the Senate plan are still being revised, but the Herald’s editorial appropriately focuses on policy. In particular, the editorial board writes,

In addition, the Senate plan would do away with the current education funding model that uses the number of staff members in a “prototypical school” to determine how much money school districts receive.

Instead, money would be invested on a per pupil basis, providing at least $12,500 for each student. More money would be allocated for students in special programs.

The GOP plan provides an equitable, consistent dollar amount per student and ensures the state is meeting the requirements outlined by the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision.

That’s an essential element of the plan, regardless of how the assumptions move around. The Herald editorial concludes,

How the legislative give-and-take goes remains to be seen. But bringing equity to the state is at the crux of McCleary decision, and the Senate bill comes closer to addressing that than any other proposal we have seen so far.

Melissa Santos reports in The News Tribune that the numbers flap may be resolved soon.

Three different sets of numbers exist to explain how a GOP proposal to fix how Washington pays for schools would affect local school districts.

As of Tuesday, state lawmakers and staffers at the Capitol were still working to agree on which numbers were right…

The dispute has led to some partisan back-and-forth, Santos reports,

Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia and the Senate’s chief budget writer, said nonpartisan staff informed him last Monday that there might be an issue with the Senate’s calculations. That was after the Senate already passed the school-funding plan off the floor, and the same day the proposal was heard in the House Appropriations Committee.

…But Braun said he didn’t withhold information. Rather, he said he was just working with staff to ensure the new numbers are right — and agreed upon — before they are released. 

Braun said the various models of how the Senate education plan would affect each school district aren’t necessarily right or wrong, but just based on different budgeting assumptions. 

He said he hopes to have updated numbers as soon as Wednesday that will reflect a consensus between nonpartisan House and Senate staffers, as well as Inslee’s budget office.

“This is a very complicated animal … it’s fair to look at it from different perspectives,” Braun said Tuesday. “That doesn’t make their answer right or wrong, it just makes it different.”

All budgets are projections. And all projections involve assumptions. Ideally, the estimates can be vetted soon and the policy discussion can progress.