In Our View: Streamlined Funding

State schools for the blind and the deaf benefit from recent legislation

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For more than a century, Vancouver has been proud to serve as home for two schools -- less than a mile apart -- where learning knows no boundaries of sight or sound.The Washington State School for the Blind at 2214 E. 13th St. serves about 70 students here and helps more than a thousand students statewide.

The Washington State Center for Childhood Deafness and Hearing Loss at 611 Grand Blvd. typically serves about 120 students on campus and provides important services for hundreds of students around the state.

That long tradition of success will continue, thanks in part to recent legislation that not only makes funding at the two schools more efficient and flexible, but does so at no additional expense to taxpayers.

The schools, and our community, have state Rep. Jim Moeller and state Sen. Craig Pridemore to thank as the two Vancouver Democrats ushered the legislation to unanimous approval this year in both chambers.

As Jacques Von Lunen explained in a recent Columbian story, the bill creates separate accounts for the Center for Childhood Deafness and the state School for the Blind. Here’s how the adjusted funding system will work:

Each school will set up a new special account to deposit any contract fees, tuition, grant monies or other payments that are unrelated to funding from the state. Any money left in those accounts will remain there and be available the following year. The flexibility is key in such situations as this past winter, when heating costs were lower than projected. Those savings can now be applied to future budgets and used to offset cuts in state funding.

“It’s a win for taxpayers and a win for kids,” said Rick Hauan, director of the Center for Childhood Deafness.

Previously, any remaining nonstate money in the two schools’ budgets would be sent back to the state’s coffers. Essentially, the two schools here are stand-alone state agencies, and state agencies generally do not carry over fund balances or unspent money from one year to the next. Instead, the money typically returned to the general fund.

This new change makes sense because the local schools for the blind and the deaf operate in different financial systems than what is typical at standard K-12 school districts. These two schools are centers for statewide instruction; hundreds of students elsewhere who have visual and hearing challenges benefit from services and programs designed here.

Vancouver’s schools for the blind and the deaf receive significant amounts of money from sources other than the state. The School for the Blind receives about $5.7 million annually from the state and takes in another $1.7 million through fees, out-of-state tuition and grants. Some students from Oregon attend Washington’s School for the Blind and pay out-of-state tuition after Oregon closed its school three years ago.

The Center for Childhood Deafness here receives nonstate revenue of about $300,000 and operates with a total budget of about $8.5 million annually.

The legacy of success at our state schools for students with visual and hearing challenges is time-honored and extensive. Creating these funding accounts allows the schools to be a little more autonomous in writing budgets, while maintaining accountability as state agencies to the funding provided by taxpayers.