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Sunday, February 14, 2010

Raising the Levy Lid

Raise the school levy lid. That's what a bill that the Washington State House passed on Saturday would allow. Why (from a Times article):

Gov. Chris Gregoire has promised help to struggling school districts, and the bill would help them make up for school budget shortfalls. The bill would allow school districts to ask for more money and would let them go back to the voters for more money in the middle of a levy cycle.

Background:

"The levy lid law took effect in 1979 and sought to limit levy revenue to 10 percent of a school district's state basic education allocation. It had a grandfather clause, however, and allowed some districts to exceed the 10 percent limit."

Under current law, most districts may bring up 24 percent of their budget through levies, although some are grandfathered at as much as 33.9 percent of their budget. The bill passed Saturday would raise the levy lid by 4 percentage points, from 24 to 28 percent, plus districts grandfathered in at higher rates can also raise their levies by 4 percent.

The bill also would increase the levy equalization rate from 12 percent to 14 percent. This is the amount the property tax poor districts get from the state in addition to what they can raise locally."

So this might be all good and well except that it could have some major fallout. One, it lets the state off the hook for a longer period of time. The Legislature, by passage of the law (with support from the Governor), can say it did something to help schools. But did they really? Two, it makes the differences in funding between districts all that more stark. The equalization rate isn't going to close that gap.

The judge in the basic education court case has said that the state relies too heavily on local levies to pay for education.

"Rep. Skip Priest, R-Federal Way, cited that ruling, saying that if the judge says the state is using the levies in an unconstitutional manner, lawmakers shouldn't then turn around and increase levies.

"That, for me, doesn't pass the straight face test," he said.

Rep. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said that parents want lawmakers to give their schools options.

"They're not caught up in the politics of levies," she said. "They want schools funded for their kids."

Ah, the kids. It's kind of amazing what will be done "for the kids" without thinking of long-term outcomes. The cry seems to be "we need money and we need it now." I can't blame parents for wanting to do everything possible but there are also ripple effects. Just getting money is not enough.

Additional legislation from Saturday pass by the House:

Also Saturday, the House, on a 73-23 vote, pass a school reform bill from the Quality Education Council, the group assigned by the Legislature to manage the process of reforming the way Washington pays for K-12 education.

The measure defines what it takes to run a prototypical school, ranging from teacher-student ratios to money for maintenance and supplies. The bill would set a goal of decreasing class sizes in kindergarten through third grade to 15 students by the 2015-16 school year. It would require all-day kindergarten across the state by 2017-18. And it would move up the schedule for the state paying for all school transportation costs to 2011.

I think we've heard promises about lower classes sizes before.

14 comments:

seattle citizen said...

OT, but yesterday's NY Times Magazine has a cover story about the Texas State Board of Education and seven of its members' drive to inject Christianity into the curriculum.

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/14/magazine/14texbooks-t.html

Things could be worse in Seattle: We could have such an activist board as Texas.

The article left me wondering if, when claiming religion had a large part in the formation of this country and should be thus taught in history, these poeple would include the teachings of the religions of the many tribes that were run over, the religions of the Africans that were forced over, the religions of those who professed a belief in the "common" god while holding provate beliefs in other deities or in none at all...
I'm sure the answer is no, that these Texas activist Directors want only the God of their chosen religion illustrated profusely in the countries textbooks (As goes Texas, so goes much of the country in text publishing). I'm sure, ironically, that the God (and his pruported son)so illustrated in the texts these people demand is white. Odd, no?

We should march on Texas to stop this abomination. It impacts our children.

reader said...

History is written by the winners.

Melissa Westbrook said...

I was actually going to write a thread about this issue because people like to say, "Thank goodness this isn't Texas." Not so fast. I worked in textbook published (the book design end) and it's kind of like, "As Texas goes, so goes the nation." It's actually quite scary how much influence a bunch of religious fanatics have over what gets published in textbooks in this country.

seattle citizen said...

Read the article. The texts, the "history," will not be written by winners, but by a group of fifteen State Ed directors. None of them "won" anything (except election to a powerful post) and seven of them have an opinion of history that is purely of their own imagination.

"History" is usually part fiction, anyway, or at least a biased perspective - any thinking person knows this and takes the textbooks with a grain of salt.

I think the case can be made that it's LOSERS who have to wrestle the bully pulpit, who have to clamor for the podium, because their arguments can't be sustained by rational discourse. Can't win the debate? Buy a louder megaphone.

Meanwhile, the rest of us blessedly live our lives in reality, with Buddhist, Muslim, Wiccan, Animist, athiest neighbors.

Thank god(s). Or thank rationality. Or thank one's self for one's own compassion and acceptance.

WV agrees that that's a "facke," jacke

zb said...

Melissa:

I'm one of those who pretty strongly object to opposing levies as protest votes. But, I think I'd vote against raising the levy cap. It goes in the wrong direction, and, I suspect wouldn't pass constitutional muster.

Effectively it's coming up with the equivalent of "tuition increases" for the state system -- of allowing localities to try to raise tuition in the form of levies to make up for the states unwillingness to fund education as required by our constitution.

Even if it might raise more money for the kids my schools might attend, in the short run, I can't support this degree of change in principle, and I think the state has to find another way out.

TechyMom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TechyMom said...

zb,
I agree with you on principle, but I'm really getting awfully tired of fighting with the Eastern Washington anti-tax crowd, and then when I win that fight, winning the priviledge of subsidising their services with my tax dollars while they complain about it. Western Wa has higher property values, income, business revenue, and retail sales than Eastern Wa. We also, in general, are more interested in taxing ourselves to provide services than Eastern Wa is. I feel this way not about most government services, not just education. I love that San Francisco funds universal health care at a local level, rather than waiting for the rest of the country to catch up.

What I'd really like to see is a stable tax revenue model at a local, county or metro (multi-county) level that would allow localities that value public education to fund it at a level that necessary for high quality.

By a stable tax revenue model, I mean a tax which doesn't have to be renewed every few years, and which is tied to property or income, not retail sales. In a perfect world, I'd prefer a state-wide income tax with a good chunk dedicated to education, but because of the issues above, I don't expect to see that in my lifetime. Stable local or county taxes seem more likely to happen.

Lori said...

the legislature must be using Everyday Math if they think they can get K-3 class sizes to 15 by 2015!! Do they know that at many schools, those grades now have nearly 30 students per class? And with the new SAP, we are expecting larger classes next year.

What? Is raising the levy lid going to allow them to hire twice as many K-3 teachers as they have now?? That's almost what would be required to have classes that small. And space? How many more schools need to open to make room for that many small classes?

Sure, 15 per class sounds amazing. And people might vote based on that appeal alone. But stop and consider the logistics. No way we can get there from here.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Exactly Lori. It sounds like a lot of hot air and talk. Where is the realism in all this?

reader said...

Hmm. So in 2015, when all of our kids are long gone from K-3... are we all going to be so willing to pay for 15 per class? My kids had 30 per class in first grade. And now, I should pay for people down the pipe to get something incredibly more deluxe? Seems a bit unreasonable. 15 per class sounds like a private school, and most of those are running way more than $15K with no extra funding for challenges like ELL, special ed, FRL. Imagine what their cost would be if they accepted those challenges too? That's what we'll be paying too. Seems hard to imagine that people will swallow that.

PS. History is written by the winners... is an explanation of why certain "gods" or atrocities are omitted. Clearly it's true. Those undeserving ed Directors rise from the culture that "won"... and so choose to include that winner's perspective alone... complete with their own bias.

seattle citizen said...

As years go by, it seems to me that 20-25 students is an optimal size for most classes (give or take a couple studnts in lower or higher grades. More students and the classes are unwieldy; less, and it's not cost-effective or efficient.

15 students sounds pretty pie-in-the-sky

PPS - Native cultures, Africans, et al have "written" some narratives of their own, sometimes withour paper and often without words...many would differ with the idea that anybody has "won" anything - power is in the eye of the beholder. That said, these Texas directors who think they're all that will just give us more work as we have to unravel the narrow biases they foist onto our children. Luckily, there are other "winners" who don't want to be offended by textbook companies, and they are fast becoming more prevelant than Evangelical Europeans (are any of those Directors NOT European? Probably not...)
I'm talking about the amazing influx of people from all over the world, and the resurgence of Native (First Peoples) theologies...
Blessedly, as the nation gets more and more ethnic, those people down in Texas who think they have the "winning" formula to give to the rest of us will be in for a rude surprise.

I, for one, can't wait and will do everything in my power to increase diversity and hamper these powermongers.

reader said...

When the new winners emerge, the ones who mate and/or migrate infinitely better than the Texas evangelicals, a new history will be written. (The histories kids actually read, that is.) But, I wouldn't count the Texans out just yet in the fundamentalist-mating-procreating-proselytizing department. You might not like them, but they have expanding assets.

zb said...

"More students and the classes are unwieldy; less, and it's not cost-effective or efficient."

I think it's more than "not cost-efficient", 'cause I think a critical mass of children can actually improve each other's learning. But then, I don't believe in the model of learning where the teacher delivers the knowledge to the students intact, and they absorb it.
he case of schools,

zb said...

But Gregoire's plan is for real, I think. It's the general plan of how Olympia plans to deal with significant budget shortfalls, without having to make any hard decisions themselves. They're going to grant tuition granting authority to the state colleges so that they can raise tuition to generate their own funds; they're now proposing increases in levy caps so that funds for educating can be locally generated (a model that people are questioning everywhere else, and one that usually fails to pass constitutional muster in any state that has an education requirement in their constitution). They've increase fees in libraries so that users can pay a larger share of their costs. The same will happen for other services (parks, community centers, . . . .).

These changes work for those of us with money to pay for all those things, but the fail those who don't. In the case of schools, since they're not-yet-charging supplemental tuition, say, for the IB program, or for AP classes (at least officially), it won't cut out the economically well off in our own districts. But, what about the kids in Aberdeen? The woman in Bainbridge seemed to like the plan, but Bainbridge is a small system. Are they rich enough to absorb the costs, of say, a child with significant special needs, if the state no longer even pays lip service to the constitutional requirement that they "amply fund education?"

Though I understand that this can bring extra money for my neighborhood schools in the short term, it's not a plan I can support.