Special session starts today; expectations high and muted

Today begins the (first?) 2015 special legislative session. Few expect a swift resolution of the budget stalemate that has taken lawmakers into OT. Some see the extended session as an opportunity to address items that didn’t make the first cut, many of which tie directly to the fiscal/education priorities that will dominate the special.

The Associated Press offers a rundown of must-do items and an inventory of legislation passed during the general. The must-dos:

Legislators’ to-do list for the coming days is weighty. The Democratic-held House and Republican-led Senate must work out their differences on the state budget, education spending and a transportation package or risk, respectively, a government shutdown, contempt penalties from the state Supreme Court, and still more decay and burdens for state transit and roads systems.

The Seattle Times also offers a similar list of things done and left undone

The Times editorial board weighs in with an appeal to lawmakers to meet in the middle, saying some new revenue will be necessary and encouraging lawmakers to “look at” some kind of “small capital gains tax with restrictions.” 

The frequency of these sessions leads the Columbian editorial board to wonder whether it’s time to amend the state constitution to add days to the regular session, currently capped at 105 days in budget-writing (odd) years. The editorial also notes that the philosophical differences between the House and Senate makes a “meet in the middle” resolution difficult to achieve.

Senate Republicans are insistent upon no new taxes; House Democrats are equally adamant that the Senate budget was formed using smoke and mirrors. That would seem to leave little room for the kind of compromise that will be required.

Meanwhile, as we posted yesterday, the state Supreme Court wants to know how lawmakers satisfy the McCleary mandate.  The Attorney General asked the court to allow the Legislature to finish the job in the special session. The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin seconds the request.

Lawmakers have been serious about the need to boost education funding since lawmakers went into session in January. The plan, as of now, is for the Republican-led Senate and the Democrat-controlled House to make substantial progress during the 30-day session that starts Wednesday. Lawmakers are also expected to address the unconstitutional use of local school district levies.

…The court needs to give the legislative branch and the executive branch the time needed to meet constitutional responsibilities.

And if that goes beyond the special session, the court must wait…

As must we all.

Superintendent of Public Instruction proposes education budget

It’s late in the session, but Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn thinks there’s still time to throw a new education budget on the table. His plan landed heavily yesterday, as the Seattle Times reports.

Dorn, the state’s superintendent of public instruction, outlined a plan to spend $2.2 billion in the 2015-17 budget cycle, saying that’s what it will take to fulfill the state Supreme Court funding mandate known as the McCleary decision.

That’s a good chunk more than the $1.3 billion put forth by the GOP-controlled Senate and the $1.4 billion by the Democratic-controlled House in their proposed 2015-17 budgets.

While Dorn did not specify where the money for the increased spending would come from, he and State Treasurer Jim McIntire are scheduled to discuss the other side of the ledger at a press conference tomorrow.

This late in the session, it’s unlikely that the proposals will gain much traction, though Dorn has proposed provocative ideas that will doubtless be part of future discussions. For example,

Dorn, a former school principal and state lawmaker, also proposed that teacher salaries be set in statewide bargaining rather than district by district — with his position, the superintendent of public instruction, negotiate on behalf of the state’s 295 school districts.

That’s not something the Washington Education Association finds appealing, however, Dorn may have a solid, substantive point. Increasing state funding to replace local levy support for compensation necessarily entails rethinking the compensation structure.  Here’s how John Stang at Crosscut describes Dorn’s position:

Dorn also proposes collective bargaining between the state government and teachers, either on a statewide basis or by regions. This is because the other reforms would take local levies out of the teacher-pay picture, and put salary responsibility totally on the state. Dorn said regional contracts might be set up because of the different costs-of-living in different parts of Washington. The bargaining would also cover health insurance.

It may be late in the regular session. Well, it is quite late in the regular session. But the discussion of education reform and finance will not be limited to the 2015 legislative calendar. Regardless, Dorn wants to be heard now.

“I just get the feeling that we’re going to be here longer than the next two weeks,” Dorn said.

Maybe. But it’s also probable that House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan had it right when he described the House budget plan as the “high water mark” for education funding. It’s going to be an interesting two weeks.

New evidence that annual assessments and accountability improve student learning

The U.S. Chamber reports that academic achievement for disadvantaged students has improved under the No Child Left Behind reforms.  The chamber points specifically to requirements for annual assessments, public reporting of data, and accountability. The following chart tells the story.

1 Graduation chart


Meanwhile, Washington Education Association members are rallying to push for higher pay and full funding of the four-year, $4.7 billion unfunded mandate imposed by Initiative 1351, narrowly adopted last fall. Among their concerns…

[WEA president Kim] Mead said the teacher-evaluation bill, which has passed the state Senate but not the House, is a distraction from the work lawmakers should be doing to comply with McCleary [the state Supreme Court full-funding of basic education opinion].

The teacher evaluation bill has the strong bipartisan support of education reform groups and major editorial boards in the state. It’s not a distraction.
Improving education outcomes is a major Opportunity Washington priority. The teacher evaluation legislation is an important element of the reform agenda, as the national data cited by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce demonstrate.



TNT asks the right question about pricey I-1351 class size initiative

The News Tribune editorial board asks, “Would voters still like I-1351 with tax included?” They suggest the outcome might be different, pointing out…

The more Washingtonians looked at Initiative 1351 last fall, the less they liked it.

Another look may be in the offing. The initiative’s price tag has played a role in recent legislative efforts to improve disclosure of the fiscal effects of ballot measures. The News Tribune sees merit in a referendum:

All the reasons that made this initiative a stinker last fall are reasons to give the voters another shot at it. Lawmakers can put the exact same measure on the ballot, but this time with a funding provision – an income tax, say, or an increment to the sales tax….I-1351’s supporters can hardly object to a referendum that includes revenues – unless, that is, they were trying to fool the voters last year into thinking they were getting a freebie.

The measure has complicated an already difficult education funding session, driven by the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. And if you’re still unclear that the decision’s about, it’s hard to be Sen. Joe Fain’s even-handed 57 second explanation.