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State budget's education funding still leaves some unhappy

Washington State Gov. Jay Inslee signed a $33.6 billion operating budget last week, staving off a government shutdown and beginning the process of "fully funding" education in accordance with the State Supreme Court's McCleary decision from last year.

The "McCleary downpayment," as it's become known, sets aside approximately $1 billion in education funding for the 2013-15 biennium.

State Superintendent Randy Dorn said this budget process did not really address the serious issues facing lawmakers.

"I understand that passing a budget is difficult. This time around was more difficult than most," Dorn said in a prepared release, referencing the fact that Inslee's signing of the operating budget was done at the latest point in the year in over 20 years. "But it is essential that we are honest about how far we still have to go to meet our constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education."

According to research done by the Quality Education Council, the "fully funded" mark would be hit when the state spends approximately $8 billion on education. Dorn noted that his bare minimum for this biennium was around $1.4 billion.

"Despite all the hard work this session, we have barely begun to make progress toward full state funding," he said. "We have five years, and we are still roughly $7 billion short. This leads me to two critical questions: Does the Legislature have a plan to satisfy McCleary by 2018? (and) How will the Legislature provide a stable funding source so districts can plan for the future?"

Dorn suggested that one way the Legislature could provide that "stable funding source" would be to "discuss seriously…changing our property tax structure to reduce levies at the local level, and transfer that capacity to the state to fund basic education…My point is, in 2013, the Legislature avoided the hard questions and major decisions that will be necessary to satisfy McCleary."

At the local level, those local levies Dorn referenced are a major source of funding for Federal Way Public Schools (FWPS), bringing in approximately $7.7 million a year, according to the district.

For FWPS Assistant Superintendent of Financial Services Sally McLean, the 11th-hour budget still continues to leave a lot of questions unanswered.

"In terms of the overall compliance with McCleary by 2018, I concur (with Dorn) that the state does not yet have a revenue structure in place to support this," she wrote in an email to The Mirror. "Nor have the more difficult Technical Work Force recommendations to the Quality Education Council around compensation, levies and local effort assistance been addressed."

"There are many more difficult discussions in the future," she added.

Learn more

A summary of the budget can be found at the Office of the Governor's website, www.governor.wa.gov under the sidebar "Key Links."

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