Legislature in Washington State Debates Differing Funding Bills

Washington State Legislators are debating the merits of two competing education funding proposals for the 2013-2015 biennium. Two bills differ in the amount of money each would provide to Washington’s schools with one allocating $1.3 billion more in K-12 funding and the other an additional $1 billion.

Lawmakers are in the middle of a special session convened to finalize the education budget, but so far there’s no agreement on the horizon. In order to win over their Republican colleagues, House Democrats proposed an additional $700 million for education, but the state’s Superintendent Randy Dorn criticized the compromise bill, saying that the amount of woefully inadequate in light of recent cuts to education due to the 2008 recession.

Tri-City school administrators said they don’t anticipate a decision soon, and the Legislature may take another special session to approve a spending plan. That leaves districts unable to hire teachers and negotiate supply contracts for the next school year and under pressure to get budgets to the local educational service district office for review by a state-mandated July 10 deadline.

“We start expending on that new budget in July, and we may not have one,” Pasco Superintendent Saundra Hill said during a recent Pasco School Board meeting.

Lawmakers will have to find a way to fully fund education this year after a 2012 ruling by the Washington Supreme Court. Even the $1.3 billion proposal put forward by the lawmakers will be insufficient to comply with the ruling known as the McCleary decision according to Dorn. The minimum amount needed for compliance is $1.4 billion more, he said.

The bill consideration in the house will provide an additional $1.3 billion towards K-12 education in Washington while the Senate version would add $1 billion in funding. The House version has the support of state governor Jay Inslee.

The differences in the proposals compound problems for finance directors and district officials trying to plan for the future. Hill said she’s concerned what the state will provide for salaries as the district has a limited amount of money to cover any shortfall.
The state requires school districts to submit their budgets to their local school districts each July to review and approve them. Puryear said that not only has the state not passed a budget so the districts can start planning, but it hasn’t extended the deadline for the districts.

The latest peace offering by the Democrats will likely make the debate more complicated and will make it tougher for administrators to draw up plans for the coming school year. However, the House leaders believe that even $700 million will be enough to fund the programs considered to be the highest priorities like all-day kindergarten and a broad reduction in class sizes.