The public weighed in on Monday on an education funding plan drafted by a bipartisan work group that aims to fix the state’s problem with local school levies by 2017. Lawmakers also heard public testimony on two bills that would make adjustments to school levy lids during Monday’s hearing of the Senate Early Learning and K–12 Education Committee.
The education funding plan, Senate Bill 6195, spends $500,000 on consultants to collect data on school staff compensation and local levies across the state. It creates a formal task group to continue work on the education funding plan, and commits to ending local levy reliance by 2017.
Christine Rolfes, D–Bainbridge Island, said Democrats and Republicans came together to “craft each sentence” of the bill. The end result is a “pretty big set of compromises among all four caucuses,” she said.
“It’s been referred to as a ‘plan for a plan,’ we like to call it a plan for coming to a solution,” Rolfes said. “But even among eight of us there were tremendous differences and ideas for moving forward, and the bill represents a foundation for what we could agree on.”
Among the critics of the plan was Asher Ravona, a third grader from Seattle. He urged lawmakers not to procrastinate on their “homework,” likening the bill to his own procrastination of his school work.
“While you put your homework off, I and a million other kids have to face the consequences,” he said. “My lunch is too short. I only have 15 minutes to eat because the building is over crowed and has five lunch periods. I have recess on a parking lot because the school does not have a real playground.”
Michael Muto, the parent of two public school children, told the committee he wasn’t convinced more research was needed. He said the the plan needed to be more specific about where lawmakers will get the revenue to pay for basic education.
“I’m grateful you are all still at the table,” he said. “But the conversation needs to elevate to where the revenue is going to be coming from.”
Dan Grimm, testifying on behalf of State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, said that the Superintendent opposes the bill because it “creates the appearance of action,” while not actually funding basic education. He said funding should have been address years before now.
“The problem is not a lack of data, but a lack of leadership,” Grimm said.
Alan Burke of the Washington State School Directors says he supports the bill, but that lawmakers are making the problem worse by spending a year collecting data. “The bite you take next year is going to be bigger than if you had done it a year ago,” he said.
The Washington Supreme Court is holding the state in contempt with a $100,000-a-day fine for failing to come up with a plan to fully fund education.
The committee also heard public testimony Monday on two bills that deal with school levy lids. Under Senate Bill 6183, school district levy lids would remain at 28 percent until 2020. Starting 2021, those lids would be reduced by one percent per year until 2024.
A second measure, Senate Bill 6353, extends the 28 percent levy lid for one year. It would immediately decrease to 24 percent in year starting in 2019.
Ann Rivers, R–La Center, is the prime sponsor of the second bill. She said the reason she introduced the measure “was not because I don’t believe that we aren’t going to get there. I absolutely do think we will get done, but I do think there are school districts that need the certainty to know that they will taken care of.”
Some say one bill is too long of a transition, while the other makes the transition too short.
Dan Steele with the Washington Association of School Administrators said that he supports both bills.
“We need to face some reality,” said Steele. “”These bills offer some degree of certainty for the school districts budgets.”
Julie Salvi with the Washington Education Association echoed Steele, saying the bills offer predictability and stability.
Dan Grimm said Superintendent Randy Dorn opposes any bill that would “defer the levy cliff,” as that legislation “would undermine the state obligation to fully fund education.”