Thursday, November 29, 2012

Funding task force, changing dynamics . . .
In a Partnership for Learning update I learned about the progress that may or may not have been made in last week's meeting of the Joint Task Force on Education Funding.  This is the group with the responsibility to make recommendations by Dec. 31st on options and a preferred alternative for meeting the state's obligation to adequately fund education under the McCleary decision.  The committee is made up of four members of the state house and state senate, two from each party and three governor appointees.  The actual members can be found on page 6 of this presentation outlining the work of the task force.

As I shared in this recent post, the decisions made by the task force will influence what emerges from the upcoming session and the November 20 meeting may be an indicator of what is to come.  In this Crosscut article we learn that what up to now has been a collaborative effort took a different turn.

For the first time, the realities of partisanship became clear at the November 20 meeting of the Joint Task Force on Education Funding. Halfway through the meeting, the four Democratic legislative members of the body called for a private caucus. Heretofore,meetings have been conducted in a non-partisan fashion.
After a 30 minute break, they returned with a number of suggested changes to the three “strawman” budget proposals for basic education enhancements and funding sources that had been developed by task force chair Jeff Vincent and vice-chair Susan Enfield. Vincent, CEO of Laird Norton Company, and Enfield, Highline School’s Superintendent, are gubernatorial appointees to the task force.

The "strawman" proposals being referred to were presented at the meeting by the joint chairs of the task force.  They proposed three options as a starting point for the committee's consideration.  Each is a combination of savings, changes to or increasing property taxes, continuing some temporary taxes and the possibility of a new state tax.

One of the first issues that needs to be resolved is how much money is needed to meet the state's funding obligations.  In the "strawman" proposals that can be found here the chairs begin with a chart projecting the need over the next three bienniums.  Their proposal includes compensation increases something that all may not agree with as we see in this Tacoma News Tribune article.  The proposals are weighted to new revenue sources, not cuts to other budget areas.

The panel's first challenge is to put a dollar figure on what's needed. There's broad agreement that that must include extra money for school busing, facilities, all-day kindergarten and reduction of class sizes in lower grades, but other areas don't have consensus, including pay for educators.

Depending on those decisions, the sum could be $1.1 billion, $1.6 billion or even higher in the two-year budget period starting in July, ramping up through 2018. That's on top of an existing $900 million budget shortfall.

Below is the proposal for funding need presented at the meeting.  It includes compensation increases to classified and certificated staff that pushes it to the $1.6 billion range in the next biennium.  The numbers for "Outlook balance" are the projected budget shortfall that will greet legislators in each the bienniums.  The remaining lines identify the areas where additional revenue is needed.

Below is Straw Man #1 found here.

We can see that it will take billions over these years to meet the funding obligations and that at some point in time, partisanship will more than likely eclipse collaboration as the favored road to closure.  So many twists and turns and so much that will be determined outside the public's view are part of our future.  A reliance on tax increases will create a divide in the legislature and with some of the tax increases being proposed requiring a two thirds vote of the legislators, it is unlikely that they will become part of the solution.  After all of this, we may see the legislators punt by giving us another chance to vote on possible tax increases, something that I believe we elect representatives, senators, and governors to do.

Next meeting of the Task Force is on December 5th.  I'll watch for an update.

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