Washington state has been in violation of its own constitution for years—specifically the section that requires the state to fully fund basic education. Although the state has determined that a budget hastily passed last month rectifies the violation, it will be up to the Supreme Court to decide. The state filed court papers in July arguing that it has met its obligation under the court’s 2012 McCleary decision. I argue that they may be getting ahead of both themselves and the court.
Yes, lawmakers have made significant progress toward ensuring basic education is fully funded and that the distribution of funds is more equitable across the state. However, there are still a host of unanswered questions.
How will the new budget impact class sizes?
Class size reduction mandates, passed by the voters in 2014 as Initiative 1351, remain in place and by 2018 there will be a 1-to-17 teacher to student ratio in K-3 classes. This is good news. However, lawmakers moved the I-1351 staffing values to a new funding statute and plan to create a work group to make implementation recommendations by the end of 2019. This transfer of statutes may allow lawmakers to more easily make changes to the class size reduction and staffing values without full transparency to voters.
What is the impact on special education?
The state’s budget includes an increase in special education funding, but many school districts doubt it will be enough. Districts that have a special education population greater than 13.5 percent of their total student population and those with more high-cost special education students than the state average will still have to rely on local levy funding to meet their budgets.
A year from now, we will have a better picture of how special education funding has affected individual districts. This new budget, along with allocated basic education funding dollars and local levies, may or may not meet the needs of districts, but it’s nearly impossible to predict this before the school year begins.
What about teacher pay?
Teachers will receive a 2.3 percent cost of living adjustment for the 2017-2018 school year. The 2018-2019 school year will see most local school districts and teachers’ unions negotiating new base salary schedules. These salary schedules will be required to meet both minimum and maximum pay requirements, but will eliminate the limits placed on average pay.
The statewide base pay has already been determined by the Legislature through the 2020-2021 school year. All negotiations with local teacher groups must be in accordance with the guidelines established as part of base pay. Specialty pay for bilingual, STEM, and special education teachers is required to be bargained and funded through wholly local sources.
I think the state should be cautious about claiming its work on education funding is done until we have answers to these questions and many others. Let’s allow local teachers and administrators to work the 2017-2018 school year under the new budget before we decide that the long battle over education funding has been settled.
Meredith Browand is a mother and activist living in Purdy.
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