Washington voters last month approved more than $1.7 billion in new local-levy funding to help run public schools, according to one count. But that election-dependent funding can be a quarter or more of what a school district depends on, and that is one reason the state Supreme Court ruled in January 2012 that the Legislature was failing to meet its constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education.
Today the Washington Education Association, which represents more than 80,000 public school employees including teachers, and allies including the League of Education Voters took out a full-page ad in The Olympian to symbolically call attention to the continuing shortfall on the state’s side. Schools aren’t running out of cash today but the ad, pictured
here, argues that state funding is running out today just two-thirds of the way through the 180-day school year.
The ad is running as the Economic and Revenue Forecast Council is poised to announce the latest state revenue forecast on Wednesday. That forecast could show the state can expect tax receipts through June 2015 to fall by another $200 million below November’s expectations, according to state budget director David Schumacher.
That dimming outlook – along with the revelation last week that Medicaid costs were underestimated by $300 million – means that the state-budget shortfall for 2013-15 is now almost $1.3 billion and poised to it $1.5 billion.
And that’s before adding in anywhere from $800 million to $1.7 billion to answer the Supreme Court ruling.
Against that backdrop, House Democrats are saying new revenues are needed, while Republicans say they aren’t.
At the same time, it is clear lawmakers will be boosting state investments in K-12 public schools – and that teachers may not share in the bounty. House Republicans laid out a plan last week that adds $817 million to K-12 schools to answer the court ruling but it omits $295 million for teacher pay (requiring another suspension of Initiative 732) and other funding.
Senate Majority Coalition Caucus Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, told a town hall group on Saturday that a Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program study found little correlation between teacher pay and student graduation rates. Tom also said the Senate, which puts out its budget first this year, will do that in another week – about March 28-30.
Meanwhile, the WEA has launched an online petition campaign asking Tom and the Legislature to significantly boost investment in K-12 schools and lower class sizes and a site called Paramount Duty. The ad says it was paid by WEA and the League of Education Voters But it lists support from other groups including the statewide associations of school boards, school administrators and PTAs.
In its announcement about the campaign, WEA quotes its president Mary Lindquist as saying that the low state funding is one reason Washington has “the fourth-most-overcrowded class sizes in the country.” The House Republican budget outlined for K-12 schools last week by Rep. Gary Alexander includes new money for smaller class sizes in grades K-through-3.