At a 9 a.m. press conference Wednesday, May 24, Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal outlined steps the Legislature could take to meet the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, and described a vision of education that is “bigger than the court case.” To get to “ample,” the state needs to increase its funding for public education to 3.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a measure of the state’s wealth in comparison to a strict per pupil funding, that would land the state in the middle – or average – in tax burden.
Reykdal stressed a six-year, phased-in approach, with a system redesign focused on helping all students be successful and one that would value all paths students may want to pursue. The redesign would include the following elements:
- Universal access to early learning for all 3 and 4 year-olds, regardless of income eligibility.
- Redesigning the K-8 system, including:
- An extended school day and school year for students in grades K-8. A budget proviso in the 2017-19 operating budget would allow Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to study and review this possibility, along with requiring longer recesses and time for lunch.
- Language programs in elementary and middle schools, creating opportunities for all students to become fluent in more than one language.
- Renewed emphasis on the High School and Beyond Plan, starting in grade 8
- Transforming the high school experience and valuing all pathways, including:
- Proposing a reshaping in academic focus, when students in grade 9 and 10 would focus on “core proficiency” courses, leaving grades 11 and 12 for “pathway courses.” With a 24-credit diploma, 12 of the credits would be core courses, while 12 would be pathway or courses of interest.
- Restructuring state assessments, including moving the exams to grade 10 grade but removing the requirement to pass an assessment to graduate from high school. Rather, Reykdal would propose that students who don’t pass one of the state exam areas would take a course in the area that needed improvement, but based on an individual student’s High School and Beyond Plan.
- A study of what it would cost to fully fund dual credit courses for all students. This would include not just covering the cost of the AP and IB exams, but costs associated with credit-bearing classes in the high school.
- Revising the Achievement Index to focus less on “all student” groups and more on the gaps, including driving out improvement grants in areas where subgroups are struggling.
- Increasing parent engagement by providing more student data through mobile platforms. “Parents should get real time information on their students, including the High School and Beyond Plan, whenever they need.” Reykdal said that the Skyward system used by many districts is desktop based in a mobile world, and to increase student success, parents needed information to be more engaged and aware of how their students are doing.
In addition to Reykdal’s vision for the education system, he offered a way out of the budget impasse: McCleary-lite, beginning with the 2018-19 school year.
According to Reykdal, it would cost about $2.0 billion in state revenues to cover salaries and portions of salaries being paid by local levies. To meet the Court directive, the State would reduce its reliance on local levies for salaries by picking up the slack with about $1.5 billion, which would also drive an additional $350 million in categorical programs (LAP, TBIP, SPED and HiCAP) to school districts. Salaries would be tied to I-732 inflation measures (Seattle CPI), and reassessed every four to six years to ensure salaries are keeping pace with the market.
To meet McCleary, state-funded salaries would be coupled with $23 million in FY19 to close the gap in transportation costs being paid by local levies. He estimated this would help 95 percent of the school districts currently spending levy funds on transportation. With the remaining five percent, OSPI would review what is needed, such as whether the district needed to make changes in how transportation was delivered or if more funding was the answer.
Under the “McCleary-lite” proposal, the minimum beginning teacher salary would start at $45,000, and there would be a phase-in of professional development over the next six years. He also would propose a hybrid of the House and Senate plans, using the prototypical school formula to drive out basic education funding, but a student weighted formula for categorical programs for struggling students, ELL, highly capable and special education.
Reykdal is recommending that legislators take a pause on two issues which he says aren’t necessary to meet the McCleary decision but are highly controversial and could bog down discussions: the statewide salary schedule, which sets minimums for teacher salaries and provides some predictability in bargaining for districts; and caps on local levies. While Reykdal might agree with a slightly smaller levy lid across the state (e.g., decrease from 24 percent to 20 percent in CY2019), his recommendation would be to define what is and isn’t in the basic education box, and to come back in a subsequent year to work on the levy and salary grid issues.
On revenue, Reykdal said he wouldn’t play favorites, and would support whatever revenue is proposed that would secure the needed votes from the Legislature and a signature from the Governor.
The Week Ahead
When the first special session ended May 23 with little fanfare, a 2nd special session began at noon. All bills that had passed the two chambers on May 2 returned to their starting chamber.
The House plans to reconvene on Thursday, May 25 and take up a number of bills, including:
- HB 1046 – removing the requirement to pass state assessments to graduate;
- HB 1452 – expanding the Opportunity Scholarship Program for medical students;
- HB 1508 – mandating breakfast programs after the start of the school day;
- HB 1600 – authorizing work-based pilot programs for high school students;
- HB 1661 – creating a new Department of Children, Youth and Families; and
- HB 1777 – creating a new Early Learning Facilities grant program.
After a partial veto by Governor Inslee earlier in the month, Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon has introduced HB 2216 to address school siting issues. A companion has been introduced in the Senate (SB 5942). HB 2216 was pulled to the House floor by the Rules committee on May 23. The intention is to pass the bill to the Senate when the House meets on Thursday.
The Senate has not announced any plans to come together soon. With all the bills rolling back to their original chamber, and the Senate having passed about a dozen bills, it is expected that they will return at some point to put their priorities in play again.
The second special session is scheduled to end June 22. Lawmakers have until June 30, 2017 to pass an operating budget by the end of the fiscal year.
WSPTA Legislative Consultant