After initially saying he was “cautiously optimistic” the state operating budget would comply with the Supreme Court’s school funding mandate, Vancouver Public Schools Superintendent Steve Webb recently wrote that the budget “inadequately addresses the essential principle of the McCleary order — ample funding.”
Webb, in his capacity as president of the Washington Association of School Administrators, recently penned an article for the organization’s “WASA Hotline” newsletter decrying House Bill 2224, the state education funding plan, as failing to “provide sufficient resources to make many districts whole as they transition to the new system” for funding schools. A 2012 lawsuit, McCleary v. State of Washington, ruled the state was failing to fund basic education in violation of the state constitution.
But using data from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instructions, 10 of the 30 districts in Educational Service District 112 could receive less money in the 2018-2019 school year than this year, according to the WASA newsletter.
According to Webb, that’s because the state budget eliminates the “staff mix factor” — a numerical value assigned to schools based on the seniority and degrees of its teaching staff. A district with a more senior staff where more teachers have master’s degrees, for example, previously received more state money than a district with more inexperienced teachers who only have bachelor’s degrees.
Under the new approach, districts will receive funding based on the average cost of a teacher and how many students are in the district, meaning if a district has a more experienced teaching staff than the state average, it may not receive the money it needs to actually pay those teachers, Webb said.
A district like Vancouver, which has a less experienced staff than the state average, will weather the change without issue, he said, but according to the newsletter, small districts in Southwest Washington could lose tens of thousands of dollars when the new funding model takes effect next year. Klickitat, for example, could lose $128,787 — about 8 percent of its operating budget, according to the WASA newsletter. The shift could force districts to “discriminate against more senior and experienced staff in hiring decisions,” or else cut student programs and services, Webb wrote.
Though ESD 112 officials were traveling and unable to confirm the exact numbers specified in the newsletter, spokeswoman Lori Oberheide said “the concept that many small districts will be getting less money is accurate and of great concern.”
But in the state’s response to a series of amici briefs filed arguing the McCleary funding plan does not fund basic education — neither Vancouver Public Schools nor WASA asked to file amici briefs, according to the Supreme Court’s website — the state argued school staffing levels are not a constitutional issue. Arguing that a district hires more or different types of teachers than allocated by the new funding model doesn’t prove the state is inadequately funding schools, the state wrote.
“The state apportionment formula is for allocation purposes, and school districts can and do make local choices about staffing that depart from the formula’s assumptions,” the state argued. “That is part of local control.”
Special education concerns
Webb also highlighted concerns over funding federally mandated special education services. Historically, school districts have used money from their local maintenance and operations levies to provide some funding for special education classes. But the state budget, in an effort to make the state shoulder the cost of basic education like teacher salaries, eliminates these levies and replaces them with so-called “enrichment” levies that can only be used for extra programs like extended school days, additional courses, early learning programs and other state-approved activities.
District projections in Vancouver suggest that by the 2019-2020 school year, the district will see about $38 million in revenue for special education classes, where the actual expenses are projected to be $43 million, Webb said.
In an email from state Superintendent Chris Reykdal to local superintendents provided by Webb, Reykdal wrote that it’s clear some districts may have to continue to tap into local levy dollars
“Where you clearly make the case that you have no reasonable choice but to use local levy proceeds, I will approve those levy plans,” he wrote. “We will not violate federal law or the positive rights of children with disabilities.”
But according to Webb, that doesn’t jibe with the McCleary suit.
“We’re using local levy resources to pay for what should be that state basic education costs,” he said.
The Arc of King County, an advocacy and service organization for people with disabilities, similarly argued in an amicus brief filed with the state Supreme Court that the that the legislature failed to fund the needs of special education students.
“As long as the State refuses to pay the actual costs of educating students with disabilities, those students will continue to be at a disadvantage in preparing for college, work and citizenship,” the organization wrote in the brief.
The state, however, argued that the funding model provides “ample funding” for special education, saying plaintiffs and amici filers “cannot assert a new claim concerning the special education funding formula at this late stage of the remedial phase of McCleary.”
The Supreme Court is set to hear oral arguments on the McCleary case on Oct. 24, and is set to determine later whether the McCleary funding agreement complies with the 2012 decision.