Dorn: My Budgets Provide Equity for All Students
OLYMPIA — October 13, 2016 — When I ran for state superintendent in 2008, I had two primary issues: Replace the then-existing state testing system (the WASL) and achieve full state funding of basic education for all students.
The first has been done. There is still some disagreement about testing, but nothing like the controversy and unrest we saw when half our students were failing the math WASL and were threatened with not being allowed to graduate. The tests we have now better measure the skills students need to be successful in their lives.
But the second still needs work. A lot of work.
This past week I submitted my operating budget and capital budget proposals for the 2017-19 biennium. I won’t be in office to see the budgets through. But after nearly eight years in office, I am confident that the proposals lay out what needs to be done so that equitable funding is achieved in Washington.
The McCleary court case – in which the Supreme Court held that the state isn’t meeting its constitutional obligation to adequately fund basic education – has produced positive results. Funding has increased in materials, supplies and operating costs, as well as in technology. And we’ve moved to a more realistic transportation funding system that meets the needs of most districts.
But the overall funding system still lacks equity in how money is given to districts – specifically with the biggest ticket items salaries and capital projects.
Regarding salaries, the state simply doesn’t allocate enough money to districts for employees. There are many examples to choose from, but here’s a simple one: In 2014-15, districts spent nearly $14,000 per teacher more than the state gave them for that teacher’s salary.
How many times do we need to say this: Forcing districts to raise and spend levy dollars on basic education is unconstitutional and also flat wrong.
My total operating budget request for 2017-19 is $3.8 billion, of which $3.5 billion would go toward meeting the requirements of McCleary. That includes increases in teacher salaries at the state level, as well as money to address our growing teacher shortage, money to continue with class-size reductions, and other needed expenses.
My budget, if enacted, will dramatically reduce the dependence on local levies, a dependency that created and continues to exacerbate the equity issue. Wealthy districts have no problem passing levies, while poorer districts struggle. Washington cannot claim to provide, in the powerful words of our state constitution, “ample provision for the education of all children” if this disparity continues.
My capital budget also focuses on equity. I propose spending $5.7 billion in the next biennium. Simply put, it’s not possible to educate our children if they don’t have a place to be educated. Adequate classrooms and support space are essential, as are safe and healthy learning environment.
Construction of K-12 schools is a partnership between the state and school districts. But that partnership is threatened on two levels. First, the state uses an out-of-date formula, which does not provide the full cost of school construction for our student’s 21st century needs. Second, the partnership itself can’t even begin until the district passes a bond, by a supermajority vote (more than 60 percent of the votes).
That’s an even higher burden than for levies, and I’ve said many times that our funding system is unequal regarding levies.
My capital budget will create partnerships between the state and districts more easily. The budget will:
- Fully fund the School Construction Assistance Program, raising the funding drivers to fund the entire cost of school construction, renovations and land acquisition, eliminate the local matching requirement, and ensure equity in school construction;
- Provide new grant funding to allow districts to address school facility health and safety issues, such as remediation for lead in drinking water and increased access for disabled students;
- Provide funding for career and technical education, including Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, by investing in STEM science classrooms and labs, including skill centers; and
- Continue funding Healthy Kids/Healthy School grants to support healthy schools, which impact student health.
Poorer districts face the same problems raising bonds – which are used to fund renovating and/or building schools – as they do raising levies. Our funding systems favor the wealthy. That must change.
We need long-term investments in education. For much too long some of our children have not had access to a quality education. For much too long, our funding system has forced districts into asking their citizens to shoulder more and more of the costs.
At some point this system will tumble, as it did in the 1970s, when citizens rejected levies and teachers were let go and students suffered.
Nobody wants that to happen again. I hope the Legislature finally, finally fulfills their constitutional responsibility in 2017.
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is the primary agency charged with overseeing K–12 education in Washington state. Led by State School Superintendent Randy Dorn, OSPI works with the state’s 295 school districts and nine educational service districts to administer basic education programs and implement education reform on behalf of more than one million public school students.
OSPI provides equal access to all programs and services without discrimination based on sex, race, creed, religion, color, national origin, age, honorably discharged veteran or military status, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, the presence of any sensory, mental, or physical disability, or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability. Questions and complaints of alleged discrimination should be directed to the Equity and Civil Rights Director at (360) 725-6162 or P.O. Box 47200, Olympia, WA 98504-7200.
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