New state budget restores some funding to schools

July 22, 2013

By Neil Pierson

New: July 22, 2:07 p.m.

While some education backers are critical of the budget cobbled together by state lawmakers in late June, numbers show public schools will receive more money in the next year.

Whether or not it’s enough money for the state to fully fund basic education needs is a question that hasn’t yet been answered.

The Washington Education Association issued a news release that says the state Legislature’s 2013-15 budget “falls far short” of meeting basic education requirements. In the McCleary vs. Washington case, the state Supreme Court ruled the Legislature must increase education spending and fully fund basic education by 2018.

The WEA said the funding increase of $560 million over the next two years is only a third of what’s needed to begin complying with the court order.

“Lawmakers will tell you they have made a good start on funding education and McCleary,” WEA president Mary Lindquist said in the release. “By any measure, including their own, they have come up short.”

Locally, officials are less critical of the budget. The Issaquah School District will get an additional $3.16 million in the 2013-14 year, although it’s only a small chunk of the $16 million cut from its coffers over the past four years.

The Lake Washington School District will see an increase of $7.8 million next year, some of which is restricted to specific programs.

LWSD officials had prepared an estimated budget a few days before the state finalized its budget. Since school districts get the vast majority of their funding from the state, district officials had developed their best guess about what state funding levels would be.

Now that they have an official budget, the district will be able to refine its numbers and present them to the LWSD school board Aug. 5.

Issaquah Superintendent Ron Thiele said the district recovered about half of the $16 million cut through local taxes. The increase from the state helps Issaquah, he said, even though lower-income districts likely received a greater benefit.

“I am optimistic about the coming years,” Thiele said via e-mail, “because the long deliberative process showed that our lawmakers are taking the Supreme Court’s mandate seriously to fully fund basic education. This was a good-faith step.”

Thiele said he understands the recovering state economy limits the amount of money schools will get this biennium, although he would’ve liked to have seen an increase in funding beyond the 180-day school calendar. Teachers need more time to implement the Common Core State Standards in English and math, he said.

“My greatest concern is in the second year of the budget and the mandate to increase instructional hours by 80 hours a year for grades seven through 12,” Thiele said. “This initiative appears to not be fully funded by the state and presents logistical and financial challenges for implementation.”

A major criticism of the budget concerned class sizes. Washington’s average class size ranks 47th among the 50 states, the WEA said.

The budget restored a 1.9 percent pay cut from the 2011 school year, but it does not provide for any increases.

The WEA also ripped the budget’s continued suspension of teacher pay increases. Annual cost-of-living increases – which were approved by voters more than a decade ago – would’ve meant an additional $320 million in compensation across the board.

Thiele said he has heard complaints within the Issaquah district about salaries. The bulk of a teacher’s pay comes from the state, he said, although the district uses local levy dollars to pay for additional duties like maintaining classroom websites and attending professional development meetings.

Fixing the salary issue is on the state’s shoulders, Thiele said.

“Our long-term budget cannot sustain year-after-year cost-of-living adjustments that do not come from state funding,” he said.

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