Monday, July 1, 2013

A complex system problem . . .

I had an interesting day today with multiple calls and emails about the $4 million in the state capital budget to support our purchase of property in the donut hole.  Some were congratulatory and some asked for my thoughts about our success and also about the state operating budget that I blogged about here.  What made it interesting was the difference between what I felt about the capital budget success and the legislator's final decisions on education funding for the biennium.  It caused me to reflect on my thinking about these issues.

In my previous budget post I shared a link about the mixed feelings that many have about the $1 billion increase in public school funding.  With the opportunity to review the final budget, some are now suggesting the "real" increase is less including State Superintendent Dorn who shares his thoughts in today's Superintendent Statement.

The final adopted budget increased basic education funding by $955 million. Moreover, the Legislature did not fund voter-approved Initiatives 728 and 732 – which lower class sizes and increase teacher pay – two areas we must spend more on in the future. Had those items been funded, the increase to education spending would only be about $500 million.

Despite all the hard work this session, we have barely begun to make progress towards full state funding. We have five more years, and we are still roughly $7 billion short.
This leads me to two critical questions:
  1. Does the Legislature have a plan to satisfy McCleary by 2018?
  2. How will the Legislature provide a stable funding source so districts can plan for the future?

Superintendent Dorn had originally asked for $4 billion that he later reduced to $1.4 billion as a down payment for this biennium.  Though I agree that we wanted more and believe that this initial decision will make the accountability of the McCleary decision difficult to achieve by 2018,  I wonder if our aspirations were grounded in reality.  With the projected shortfalls in the short term and the significant power shift in the Senate as components of our current reality, what made us think that $1.4 billion was possible?  When the House budget came in below that amount, was there any possibility of both chambers agreeing to that total?

There was no common aspiration between the Senate, House, Governor, and OSPI on a plan to meet the court demands for full funding by 2018.  To add to the complexity is the lack of shared aspiration within the two Houses leading to finger pointing between those in control and those in the minority.  In the absence of a common aspiration the likelihood of a collaborative solution is not possible.  We saw emotional tension, but little of the creative tension necessary for the parties to find adaptive solutions for this complex funding problem.  Perhaps we expected too much from a system operating as silos driven by divergent policy beliefs.  Significant changes are necessary between now and next session demanding dialogue that I fear may not take place as all parties retreat into policy conversations at the caucus and department level.

Superintendent Dorn's questions above are indeed critical, but I wonder what role we can and must play to change current reality.  What should I be doing to close the gap between the parties?  My normal post-session behavior is to put it behind me and focus on our system, something I have the capacity to influence.  I fear that if I and we do this next session will begin with the current reality we no experience, one that makes the capacity to achieve a common aspiration all but impossible to achieve.  Part of the answer will be found when we can create the capacity for all parties to engage in true dialogue with the shared vision to ensure post high school success in learning and work, a major task.

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