Sunday, January 26, 2014

Legislative news . . .

I had the opportunity to spend part of today with board members Mary Jane Glaser and Tim Adam and Mark Koch at the WASA/WSSDA/WASBO Legislative Conference in Olympia.  I learned something from each of the three speakers, but wasn't able to stay for all the session so I'm looking forward to a debrief with Mark.

From the first speaker, Superintendent Dorn, I learned that we are 42nd in the nation on basic education funding and that he is supportive of using state assessment data in the evaluation process, but not at the 50% level in some states.  He also shared the success that our state is experiencing with NAEP scores compared to other states that I blogged about here.

I appreciated his decision to recommend delaying the 1080 hour requirement for a year while people come together to determine what it will take to ensure that all kids are career and college ready.  He shared problems this requirement will cause some systems such as a small district that currently buses all students at the same time.  Forcing 1080 hours would create the need to bus in shifts causing them perceived operating inefficiencies and a loss of revenue.

The second speaker, David Schumacher, Director of the Office of Financial Management helped me understand at a deeper level the issue of tax loop holes and tax revenue.  In the mid 1990's we were 10th in the nation in state and local taxes collected per $1000 of personal income and now we are about 30th.  The national average in 2011 was $108.31 and our state average was $98.95  This reduction in collection has contributed to the state budget issues because the needs of the varied constituencies has not decreased and McCleary has only made the gap more difficult to fill.  That change over time has resulted in about $15 billion less in revenue this biennium over what it would have been had the collection rate kept level over that time.  The tax loop holes and caps on taxes have contributed to this significant change.

He also shared that even though the economy in the state is improving the outlook for the next biennium is not bright especially considering the McCleary needs.  He also said that change is needed in the process used for establishing a balanced budget.

. . . This approach is unsustainable.  Barring an unforeseen dramatic rise in economic activity and revenue collections, we will face another sizable shortfall when we begin work on the 2015-17 budget.

The third speaker was Thomas Ahearne, lead attorney for the plaintiffs in the McCleary case.  He went over the history of the case and the January Supreme Court order to the legislature to speed up implementation of Basic Education under ESHB 2261 and SHB 2776.  Much of it I already knew, but he ended his presentation with some interesting news.  Last week twenty-five House members wrote a letter to the Supreme Court justices in essence challenging their right to tell the legislature what to do in this case.  The comments below are not verbatim, but close to what he shared.

. . .We respectfully reject the court's attempt to wrongfully intrude upon the constitutional prerogative of the legislative branch.
. . .The court lacks the authority to hold the legislature in contempt.
. . .We the undersigned will not recognize such order from the court - request that you do not perpetuate a constitutional crisis - a crisis in which you will not prevail.

Doesn't sound like a group planning on doing much this session to meet the 2017-18 mandate for full implementation of basic education.  I don't know who the twenty-five are, but will be interested to see if any are from our legislative district and if there is a similar letter coming from the Senate.

I'll end by sharing that we learned the Governor is expected to announce at a Tuesday press conference his support for implementation this session of I-732, the cost of living initiative.

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