Six school superintendents are asking the Legislature to better fund K-12 education.
We are school superintendents from across the state, and we strongly encourage legislators to amend important provisions of the recent education funding law, HB 2242. At the time the law was adopted, school districts did not have time to adequately review or provide suggestions for this significant new state education funding structure. Unfortunately, the adopted law results in differential impacts on the financing structures for individual school districts.
Under court order, known as the McCleary decision, the Legislature undertook the monumental task of restructuring the K-12 basic education funding structure in order to meet its constitutional duty to fully fund basic education. In fact, the Legislature infused roughly $4 billion of new state funding into the public K-12 education system, with more to follow in subsequent years.
However, some of our school districts lose money under the new funding formula. Still more districts face funding deficits when the revenue changes are netted against state expectations for providing certain student services overall. The bottom line is the current funding law does not work for all school districts, and should be amended, as broadly outlined below. These changes would provide the necessary tools for districts to continue providing high-quality education services for our students, no matter what their socio-economic background may be.
The key changes we request include:
Fund the “experience factor”
• As is the case with most professions, teachers with more experience and relevant education make more money than less experienced teachers. The new K-12 funding system penalizes districts with more experienced teachers. Districts like Olympia with more high-quality, experienced teachers will be forced to absorb cuts in order to continue to afford the skilled and experienced staff.
• For 40 years, principals have had one responsibility: Hire the best teacher. Now, under the new funding formula, there is a direct pressure to hire the cheapest teacher, not the most qualified. This new funding strategy is wrong for children and teachers.
Make regionalization funding more equitable
• By creating something called “regionalization,” some districts get more money than others for reasons unsubstantiated by housing cost-of-living data. In other words, this aspect of K-12 funding is arbitrary, and children’s ZIP codes will determine the quality of their education.
Allow collection of voter-approved maintenanceand operations levies
• The new state finance system still underfunds basic education. Many districts are hit hard by this underfunding. Yet, the state cuts some local levies in half. Unless the state is going to fund critical basic education services, the Legislature needs to retain our voter-approved maintenance and operations levies. For example, state basic-education funding under the new finance system provides a district of 10,000 students funding for two nurses. This amounts to two days per month for each school to have a nurse on site. The Legislature considers this “adequate,” but we don’t. This is unacceptable to parents, students and communities.
Fully fund special education
• School districts have been paying for special-education services out of local-levy funds for decades, even though this is supposed to be a program fully funded by the state. The new funding formula continues to rely on local-levy funds, but levy funds have been cut in half, thus making it impossible to provide the full services children with special needs require to achieve academic success.
We’ve met with and notified our legislators about these issues. We applaud the recent work done by both bodies who are working with their members to address some of these modifications, and other changes to the underlying law. We believe that the residents of the state who are being asked to pay more in property taxes should all see the benefits of increased funding for all of their students, not less on a district-by-district basis.
The Legislature made substantial progress on reforms to the system. Now it has the chance to make the underlying law work for all school districts and all of our children. Making these changes is the right thing to do, and we applaud those with the courage to put these changes into law.