School districts grapple with education funding bill

New law increases basic funding, caps levy dollars

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill on July 6 to fund basic education for all students in kindergarten through 12th grade.

Basic education funding has been a hot button issue since the Washington Supreme Court’s McCleary decision in January 2012.

The January 2012 decision, written by Justice Debra Stephens, ruled that the state legislature failed to fulfill its duty to “make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its border.” According to the Washington Policy Center, the McCleary decision has caused “significant” confusion among lawmakers, educators, parents and the general public.

Part of the decision found that schools were relying on local levies to pay for their basic needs, such as teacher salaries, a responsibility that should fall to state government, according to a press release from the governor’s office.

“This is a big day in the state of Washington,” Inslee stated in the press release. “For the first time in decades, we have a budget that fully funds education. Our work isn’t over, but we’ve met the constitutional and moral obligation to our students, and we’ve set the course for the future of education in Washington State.”

The new law creates a pay structure for teachers that could include increases for expertise in a specialized area and takes into account regional differences in the cost of living. It also adds three professional learning days for certificated instructional staff, expands mentorship programs for new teachers, and creates a statewide health care program for school district employees who work more than 630 hours each school year.

The law increases state funding to special education, career and technical education, highly capable and bilingual programs, and funds a new learning-assistance program for schools that serve a large number of students who do not meet academic standards. It also defines the types of programs that can be paid for by local levy dollars.

Starting in 2020, it will require the state to approve local levy measures before they go on the ballot.

The bill also caps the amount of money a district can collect, beginning in 2019. While levies will be limited, education funding will be increased by a higher statewide property tax beginning in 2018.

Camas and Washougal superintendents noted that the new law has several different facets, and said they are waiting for clarification from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and the state budget office regarding the bill’s financial aspects.

“Yes, there is more funding for the Learning Assistance Program to support struggling learners,” noted Mike Stromme, Washougal superintendent. “There is funding for lower class sizes for Career and Technical Education and skills centers. Increased funding is also provided for special education and for highly capable students.”

However, opinions on whether basic education is now fully funded will vary, he added, noting that House Bill 2242 was “quite lengthy” and it is taking time for school districts throughout the state to understand the implications.

“We are waiting for OSPI to provide additional budget information to gain a better understanding of the fiscal impact to the Washougal School District,” Stromme said. “We anticipate receiving this detailed information in the next week or two, which will assist us in finalizing the budget for the 2017-18 school year.”

Added Camas Superintendent Jeff Snell: “There are a lot of variables to the new model and sorting them out will take a while. I’m hopeful, as it seems there is a greater investment in public education. This is important as Washington is ranked in the bottom tier of states in terms of investment in public schools (according to an Education Week 2017 report).”

He admitted, however, that the swap and redistribution of levy money has made him a bit nervous.

“We’re still trying to figure out how many new dollars are actually injected into our schools,” Snell said.