School budget plan looks to expand equity among schools

School budget plan looks to expand equity among schools

(Wash.) Increased funding for students with disabilities, more nurses and middle school counselors, and expanded dual credit course offerings are among the priorities highlighted in the newly proposed Washington State education budget.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal’s proposal would prioritize schools that are most in need of support before being phased in across all school sites.

The budget, which now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee, is considered advisory as the governor and Legislative leaders prepare for next year’s budget negotiations.

Reykdal said that although the state Legislature has made efforts to increase education funding, there are still too many gaps between what services or courses students can access depending on where they live.

“Our students deserve an education system that does not allow opportunity gaps to persist,” Reykdal said in a statement. “That can only happen if our system provides equitable opportunities and individual learning pathways for each student.”

School funding has been a major point of contention for Washington lawmakers, educators and administrators in the last few years. The state’s recent budget overhaul, for instance, was drafted as a response to the Washington Supreme Court decision on the landmark McCleary school-funding case.

The court’s 2012 ruling found the state had violated its constitution by underfunding K-12 schools. That finding kicked off years of debate over education funding and policies that culminated in Legislative leaders receiving contempt of court fines of $100,000-per-day.

The justices declared the state had fully implemented its new school funding plan this past summer after lawmakers agreed to add some $7.3 billion for public schools over four years.

Reykdal wants to generate even more money for schools by allowing individual districts to set higher local property-tax levies to pad their budgets for uses such as paying teachers more. The recommendation is supported by officials who faced teacher strikes this summer over salary disputes.

Under the state’s current budget, beginning next year, those levies will be capped at the lower of two rates–either $2,500 per student or $1.50 per $1,000 of assessed property value in the district.

Reykdal’s plan would instead limit total levy authority to 22 percent of a school district’s state and federal revenues.

The proposal also includes a new capital-gains tax, which the superintendent’s office estimates could generate $2 billion over two years.

Reykdal has also called for:

  • $180 million to increase funding for students with disabilities and provide additional professional learning days for all school staff;
  • $60 million to hire more school nurses, middle school counselors, and family and community engagement coordinators;
  • $65 million to expand dual credit and career and technical education programs, including opportunities for students to receive required academic credits in CTE courses;
  • $14 million in competitive grant funding to allow 12 additional school districts and tribal compact schools to implement or expand dual language programs. Funding would also expand capacity to teach in these programs by providing stipends and bonuses to bilingual teachers and paraeducators; and
  • $10 million to fund a pilot program for school districts or tribal compact schools to extend or expand the school day or year, or switch to a year-round schedule.

The largest ask, $400 million, would go toward the creation of a new funding model for elementary schools, which will build capacity to meet the state’s K-3 class size ratios. The funding would also create programming to assist rural schools in preserving and maintaining buildings.

“We have to look years into the future,” Reykdal said. “We need to shift our focus onto what will transform our educational system. Our system can only claim success if it truly provides equitable opportunity and an unprecedented embrace of individual learning pathways for each student.”

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