Sorting the education finance muddle: class size, local levies, and compensation reform

Initiative 1351, as passed by the voters last year, will not be funded fully by the 2015 Legislature. Call that a probability, because there are few certainties while the Legislature is in session. None of the budgets theoretically in play right now – proposed by the governor, adopted by the Senate and House, and introduced by the the Superintendent of Public Instruction – provides the money to satisfy the $4.7 billion, four-year price tag of the initiative. 

So the question posed by the Washington Research Council is timely and relevant: How to get around the unfunded mandate of I-1351? We may not have an answer until the final hours of the legislative session. The Columbian reports it’s a top-of-mind question in Olympia. Here’s why:

“It’s a budget buster,” Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver, said.

But it’s not the only education finance issue plaguing lawmakers in the final two weeks of the session. Melissa Santos reports in The News Tribune that local levies are again a key legislative focus

All three proposals introduced Wednesday in the Legislature aim to satisfy part of the state Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in the McCleary case, in which the court said the state isn’t meeting its constitutional duty to fund Washington’s public school system.

One of the issues the court identified was that Washington’s school districts rely too heavily on local levies to pay for basic education costs — such as school supplies and teacher salaries — that should be covered by the state.

The Seattle Times summarizes the proposed alternatives.

The three tax-levy proposals introduced Wednesday also differ, ranging from a new capital-gains tax, to a levy swap between local and state property taxes, and a plan to do more research and determine a way forward next year.

Because local levies have been used to supplement state appropriations for teacher pay, compensation reform must also be considered. The Associated Press reports on a Senate Republican idea, along with other proposed reforms.

Republicans in the state Senate said Wednesday they want most teacher salary negotiations to be statewide, with fewer local dollars going to pay educators.

Such a change in state policy, along with transforming most local levies into a statewide school tax, is essential to meeting the 2012 McCleary decision by the Washington Supreme Court, GOP leaders said at a news conference.

As we reported earlier, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn also proposed moving to regional or statewide collective bargaining for teachers

That’s a lot to be resolved in a handful of days in the legislative session.