OLYMPIA — State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn released a complete plan to fulfill Washington’s constitutional responsibility to fully fund basic education. The plan would ensure that every student in the state has an equal opportunity to a basic education.
The State is currently under a court order to produce a complete plan showing how it intends to achieve full state funding of K-12 basic education without the use of local funding. To this point, neither the Governor, nor the legislature has introduced such a plan.
“I’m pleased that the House and Senate budget proposals fund many important items, such as statewide full-day kindergarten; lower K–3 class size; materials, supplies, and operating costs; and transportation,” Dorn said.
“Now let’s finish the job. I have worked with my staff and have conferred with experts and education stakeholders to develop a plan showing how the State can achieve full funding of basic education.”
Dorn’s plan makes two significant modifications to current law regarding full funding: 1) It reduces class size in grades 4 through 12, but not as much as voter-approved Initiative 1351; and 2) It extends the timeline for achieving full funding from 2018 to 2021. The extension is a realistic timeline to hire more teachers and build more classrooms to accommodate the new class-size limits.
For the 2015-17 biennium, Dorn’s plan totals $2.2 billion in new spending. That total, however, could be lowered if local levy money currently being used to fund basic education programs is transferred into the general fund.
Seven major elements comprise Dorn’s plan. The State must:
• Complete the funding of House Bill 2776. In their McCleary decision, the State Supreme Court requires the State to fund HB 2776, which includes statewide full-day kindergarten; lower K–3 class size; materials, supplies, and operating costs; and transportation. The House and Senate budgets proposals would make significant progress to get this done.
• Reduce class size in grades 4–12. The Dorn plan recommends reducing class size to 24 in grades 4–6 and 27 in grades 7–12.
• Hire additional support staff. The Supreme Court also cites need to fund the “prototypical school model,” as defined in HB 2261. The model includes increasing the number of para-educators, librarians, school nurses, guidance counselors, office and technology support, custodians, and classified staff to keep students safe.
• Fund more teachers, more classrooms. As class sizes decrease, we must ensure we have high-quality teachers prepared to enter the profession — and space for them to work. This is the biggest obstacle to meeting the 2018 deadline.
• Reform the compensation system. The state must fund the salaries and benefits for all staff who provide basic education. Eliminating the use of levy funding should lead to a system of statewide collective bargaining, rather than local bargaining, and include regional cost-of-living adjustments. In addition, we should provide K–12 health insurance through a statewide benefit program similar to the plan now used by state employees.
• Reform the levy system. Legislation is needed to clearly define the appropriate uses of local levy funds and redefine supplemental contracts. The cost of providing an equitable high-quality basic education to all students is a state responsibility. Passing off this obligation to districts puts a burden on local taxpayers that is unfair and inequitable to districts, making it more difficult to close achievement gaps. This goes beyond being an educational issue. It is a civil rights issue.
• Review and update education provisions regularly. HB 2261 established the Quality Education Council (QEC) to direct the implementation of the prototypical school model. The QEC established several workgroups, including the Compensation Technical Working Group. It should create two new workgroups: one to design a better process to recruit and retain teachers, and the other to monitor the evolving definition of “basic education.”
The Supreme Court is not likely to tolerate further delay in the development of a real comprehensive plan to fully fund all schools, and neither should the people of the state of Washington. Now is the time to finally meet the state’s paramount duty.