Second special session begins with reports of progress on education funding agreement; OSPI releases “vision and McCleary framework”

A little optimism is welcome as the Legislature entered its second special session yesterday. State Sen. Ann Rivers tells the Columbian negotiators are “very close” to a funding agreement. 

Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, one of the key negotiators of the school funding package, is optimistic lawmakers won’t need the entire 30 days.

“In terms of the education piece, we’re very close,” Rivers said.

State lawmakers are under a court order to fully fund the state’s public education system.

“I’m not even a little worried about a shutdown,” Rivers said.

The “education piece” is a major part of the budget deal lawmakers must reach before the end of the fiscal year June 30. So, this is also good.

Rivers said the head Senate budget writer is in on the school funding meetings to ensure the two discussions are integrated.

The Associated Press report on the new session includes another optimistic note.

Democratic House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said the group negotiating the education piece of the budget has been making progress.

“I absolutely believe that everyone who is there is committed to getting the job done and doing the right thing,” he said. “It’s a matter of ironing out the differences.”

Also this,

Sen. Joe Fain, Republican floor leader, said the public isn’t hearing specifics about the negotiations but that doesn’t mean things have stalled.

“It’s not always readily apparent, and I think that both the public and a lot of legislators are rightfully frustrated in the amount of time that this is taking,” he said. “But I am optimistic — based on the progress that I’m hearing from those education negotiations — that we’re going to get somewhere.”

Meanwhile, Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal released his “K-12 Education Vision and McCleary Framework” yesterday. (This was the press conference he postponed last week, saying legislative “negotiators indicated that they are making meaningful progress toward a budget solution.”) It’s unclear at this late stage of the process how much, if at all, OSPI can influence McCleary or fiscal negotiations. 

The Seattle Times summarizes the “to-do” list:

And it’s a big one:

1. Provide preschool for all 3- and 4-year-olds.

2. Add 20 days to elementary and middle-school calendars, and make their school day 30-60 minutes longer.

3. Start teaching students a second language in kindergarten.

4. Pay for all high-school students to earn college credit before graduation — and no longer require them to pass state tests to get a diploma. [See below for why we disagree with abandoning the test requirement.]

5. Create post-high schools plans for every eighth-grader before they enter the ninth grade.

And, of course, 6: Finally resolve the landmark McCleary school-funding case — and Reykdal has some ideas about how to do that.

Item 6 is pricy:

His hybrid plan would preserve much of the existing school-finance structure, as House Democrats prefer, but also include a boost in resources for low-income, bilingual and gifted students that Republicans had hoped to support in a per-pupil funding model. It also would have more money for career and technical education, and for students with special needs.

Under his plan, the state would add about $4 billion per year for K-12 schools, or about $3,500 more per student.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Reykdal sticks with the House Democrats funding model, though there are many compelling arguments for the “per pupil” funding model proposed by the Senate, distilled neatly in this editorial.

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.

Reykdal’s item 4 – dropping the graduation test requirement – has come up before this session. It’s a bad idea, as Washington Roundtable president Steve Mullin told the Seattle Times.

But Steve Mullin, president of the business think tank Washington Roundtable, is urging lawmakers to keep the testing requirement for math and language arts.

On-time graduation rates in Washington, even with the test requirement, have increased from 72 percent in 2007-08 to 78 percent in 2014-15. And the share of graduates who enroll in remedial classes at two-year colleges has declined, from 58 percent in 2008 to 50 percent in 2015.

The accountability requirement is working. There’s no need to abandon it.