Sunday, March 17, 2013

First legislative budget falls short. . .

The House Republicans were the first to unveil a budget for the next biennium.  A short review can be found in this Tacoma News Tribune article.  As expected, it is their Fund Education First" budget and came out in the "billionish" range that I shared last week in this post.  The dollar amount is short of the $1.4-1.7 billion pushed by professional education organizations and may also not be enough to meet the expectation of the Supreme Court justices in the McCleary decision.

And even the long-term plan leaves out some increases that have been discussed as part of meeting the McCleary decision, including school employees’ pay. Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, Republicans’ leader on education, said they are sticking to areas the Legislature promised to fund in 2009 and 2010 laws rather than hanging more funding items on the budget “like a Christmas tree.”

Read more here:

Two members of that caucus, Representatives Rodne and Magendanz and Senator Mullet attended yesterday's Town Hall meeting in Maple Valley where this budget was briefly touched upon.  I think for the majority of the about thirty people who attended, we left not feeling that this budget meets our expectations and is not going to provide the support that we so desperately need at this time. Even beyond the dollar amount, for me the lack of flexibility that I spoke of in this post is a reality in this budget.  The House Republicans are ignoring the work of the Joint Task Force on Education Funding recommendations.  Instead of first funding transportation and maintenance, supplies and operating costs (MSOC) that would have given us the flexibility we need, they have chosen to first fund all day kindergarten and lower class K-3 class size.  It is an example of their position that any new money must be tied to increased accountability.  They do this by making the funding categorical, meaning you get it only if you use it the way they tell you.

So, this caucus presumes that they know what we need better than the task force who studied the issues in depth and over time.  They do not trust that we know what to do to support teachers and students. It is another example of the one size fits all mentality that will not in and of itself improve the learning environments in this state.  Mandating change will not provide the results that they want, something that I still struggle to understand.  Imposing additional categorical funding on 295 different school districts is not a structure that will move this state's education system forward.

We are a good example of why these one size fit all strategies do not work.  First, by any measure of student achievement we are successful.  We have much yet to achieve for our young people, but in comparisons we do well suggesting that we might have a plan and some sense of what to do to move forward.  We do not need additional accountability measures to move us forward.  Second, we do not have additional classrooms to lower class sizes in all K-3 classrooms or to implement all day kindergarten in every school.  With our over crowded classrooms and lack of classrooms what they see as support is not possible given our current reality.  we would not be able to take advantage of the funding as proposed.

The slogan Fund Education First, increasing accountability, lowering class sizes to a number that the research suggests will not result in the needed achievement gains, and funding all day kindergarten plays out well in headlines.  They make great talking points for legislators, but they ignore the current reality of the 295 school districts in this state and more importantly, of the change process.  We need new structures that provide school systems like those in the 5th legislative district with the support and flexibility that we need, not mandates with little chance of creating the instructional changes necessary to meet the needs of ALL young people in this state.  Yes, there are systems with greater needs than ours where categorical funding and additional accountability may be a part of the structures that will support increased achievement,  but my sense is that they will need more than those in the House Republican budget proposal.  Treating all of us with a one size fits all solution meets the situational needs of none of us.  I believe that this budget falls short not only in the dollars needed to meet the McCLeary mandate, but in understanding how to implement change that increases student achievement and that sustains over time.

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