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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Washington State Legislature - Just Don't Blame our Schools, Okay?

Two good political reads today.

First, from Publicola, the explanation of how we don't have enough money for McCleary but boy, do our legislators have enough money to continue tax breaks.  It's just ridiculous and wrong.  From their story(bold mine):

Following up on a legislative session in which lawmakers fell $420 million short on funding specific line items to meet the Washington State Supreme Court's McCleary mandate to fund basic K-12 education, the Joint Legislative Audit Review Committee (JLARC), a bipartisan task force of legislators that evaluates the worthiness of tax breaks, signed off on more than $500 million in expenses that are vague and unclear.

Why spend the full court-mandated $141.6 million on school buses, $597.1 million on materials, supplies, and operating costs, and $219.2 million on reduced class sizes, I guess, when you can give money away for ambiguous policy goals? (The most recent budget spends about $1 billion on K-12 rather than the $1.4 billion recommended by the court.)

Indeed, JLARC issued its preliminary report this month and, given the option to terminate tax breaks, kept $283.7 million in tax breaks in place despite the formal acknowledgment that they needed to "review and clarify" them. And they formally recommended that the state "continue"  another $394.6 million in tax breaks despite acknowledging that they had incomplete information.

JLARC looked at 16 tax exemptions this year—breaks on everything from health care services to diesel boat fuel to youth services to rural recovery to tree trimming services—worth $700 million total. Their preliminary findings: "Review and clarify" eight (worth $283.7 million) "continue" seven (worth $394.6 million), and "terminate" one.

A little hope from Rep. Reuven Carlyle (this has been a major focus for him):

Carlyle passed legislation earlier this year that will force the legislature to eventually come up with clearer metrics to measure whether or not a tax exemption is actually benefiting the public: "When this is all said and done, we're going to be through with the days of 'review and rlarify,' which is just government talk for 'let's punt,'" Carlyle said.

Next up, is a piece from John Stang over at Crosscut on what the Legislature is sending to the State Supreme Court on implementing the McCleary decision:

The Legislature must submit a progress report to the Supreme Court by Aug. 29. The plaintiffs in the McCleary case will also provide the court with their opinions on the progress.

So what about the Legislature?

Everyone agrees on the basic facts and figures.

Okay and...

But a special committee's Republicans and Democrats disagree how to put that information in context to the Supreme Court.

How's that?

The eight-legislator committee — two House Republicans, two Senate Republicans, two House Democrats, and two Senate Democrats — failed to agree Wednesday during a meeting in Burien on how to frame the basic figures in a larger picture for the court. Both sides hope to reach an agreement by next week.

Republicans and Democrats disagree on the exact boundaries of what is "basic education," said Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia. The report needs to be able to hold up under scrutiny by the McCleary plaintiffs and to preserve flexibility for future legislatures, said Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle. The plaintiffs are include the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools, which is a statewide coalition of community groups, public school districts and education organizations.

Wait?  Our own Legislature doesn't know what basic education looks like?  And they want to criticize public schools?  

The Republicans?

The Republican draft of the proposed committee report mentions passage of some Republican-prompted bills to improve K-12 education, which the Democratic draft does not.

The Democrats?

The Democratic draft report mentions the fact that the Legislature has not funded voter-approved cost-of-living salary increases to teachers — increases that have been unfunded since 2009-2010. The Republican draft does not mention that. That suspension of funding provided $295 million to the Legislature to help it meet its McCleary requirements. 

Oh, so about one-quarter of the "new" money for McCleary is from NOT giving teachers raises that the voters said they wanted them to have?

Together?
Both sides' draft mentioned that the Legislature restored a previous 1.9 percent salary reduction for teachers and a previous 3 percent salary reduction for administrators.

The ask?
The Democrats' draft also asked the Supreme Court to clarify what the overall fix-it plan should generally look like and to define what "progress" means as the Legislature tackles interim steps on a long-term fix. The Democrats also want to ask for guidance on how teachers' salaries fit in the constitutional picture.

Hint to the Dems - to have teachers in your "common schools" referred to in our Constitution - you have to pay them.  With state money.  That's how it fits.  

My comment at Crosscut?

Each side apparently has items they want in (or out). And, as well, it seems that they can agree on what they DO both want in.

If I was the Supreme Court, I would want to hear it ALL. Not shaded, nuanced, massaged - I'd want to the whole thing so that I could assess what the voters said they wanted (i.e. I-728 for smaller class size), what each side believes would improve "basic education", etc. 

But to leave anything out that is historically valid to the issue of whether McCleary is being enacted properly is wrong.

This should not be about posturing and politics - it's about the future of the the children of Washington State AND the vitality of our state's economy.

3 comments:

n said...

I hope there are people who can clarify this for me: I understand a 1.9% raise but it isn't in our base pay as I understand it but somehow in our TRI pay. If I'm wrong, I'd like to know.

Also, my healthcare costs went up $150 a month. I would assume that mitigates any 1.9% pay raise quite a bit. Someone who is better at math than me please tell me!

And it isn't always about wages but teachers have been underpaid for quite a long time. Now someone is going to reply that we make lots of money to which I'm going to reply that for ten years of my life I made less than a clerk at the courthouse. I know because I took the pay cut to teach. Now my twenty-two year wages are probably commensurate with the clerks †wenty-two-year wages pro rated.

BTW, Move-On is reporting that Nate Silver calculates that the Senate could be in Republican hands after teh 2014 elections. That's downright depressing.

Eric M said...

This teacher agrees that Washington State teachers were betrayed (again) by the legislative decisions that were made this year. Our leased offficials made more cowardly decisions and pushed this state another couple of meters down the road toward the 3rd World.

But hey, we NEED that tax break for people who buy a private jet in Washington. Otherwise, they'll just buy it somewhere else with an even bigger tax break. That's a Race to the Bottom we can all get behind, because our kids can maybe get low-wage jobs cleaning the airplane windows.

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