Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Cutting school days creates a legal, logistical mess

Dear advocates,

The governor’s proposal to cut and later ask voters to “buy back” four days of school gambles with our children’s future, and Washington State PTA strongly opposes it. The move would land the state in a legal mess and cause tremendous disruption. TAKE ACTION
  • It would require redefining basic education and set a troubling precedent that students don’t need that time in school. 
  • It would force districts to reopen and renegotiate hundreds of contracts, or possibly make the state step in and order school doors closed. 
  • Worst of all, it tells students not to count on that promised college- and career-ready diploma. 

Cutting days undermines the whole K-12 funding system. All funding is tied to the calendar. If the state arbitrarily cuts days from year to year, schools won’t be able to predict what their allocations will be. The proposal exacerbates an already unstable and inequitable K-12 funding system.

Basic education is the state’s paramount duty and the courts have held that once it is defined, the state has to fund it. In School Funding II, the court held that you can’t reduce basic education because of revenue problems. So to cut those days, legislators need to re-open the Basic Education Act and decide that – as a policy – children do not need that time in school.

This when evidence says otherwise.  ENTRENCHED GAPS

And even if voters were to “buy back” those days, (Governor Proposes Sales Tax) our legislators would have already done the legal harm and lowered the bar for children – both for today’s K-12 students and for future generations. This issue is not just a matter of “losing a few days.” Cutting those four days would trigger a tangled, complicated process about local control versus state control, collective bargaining, and the essence of our basic education law.

  • Local contracts cover instructional time and days. Cutting those four days means re-opening hundreds of contracts and re-negotiating terms in potentially hundreds of different ways – all in the context of forcing employees to do the same amount of work in less time. This will be hugely disruptive to our children.

    And how will the state address the inequity generated by those schools wealthy enough to absorb the state cuts? Of those communities with charitable foundations ready to raise the needed cash to keep schools open? The constitution also calls for a “general and uniform” system of public schools.
  • The legislature could try to force districts to close their buildings and dictate that no schools can offer their students more than 176 days of service. But is forcing state control over what have been local decisions really where you want to go? Especially when the forced action is to require that students get less time in school? 
  • And then there is the matter of college and career readiness. Adding instructional time – an additional 80 hours – is in the pipeline for secondary students. Cutting school days pushes the “core 24” opportunity further out of reach. The upshot for kids is that those in wealthy communities get greater access to courses that help them into college. 
Cutting days has been pitched as a simpler, more equitable, way to cut. There is nothing simple, or equitable, about it.

The contractual issues remain. Only this time, if the state cuts K-12 education it may do it in a manner that insists that students don’t need those days; that as a legal right, the state should be able to force school districts to do less; and that as a practical matter, a college- and career-ready diploma isn’t something public school children should count on.

There are no easy options left. But there are alternatives to redefining basic education.
  • A hearing will be held on cuts to K-12 education Wednesday, Dec. 7, in House Ways and Means. INFO
  • Also on that agenda: A proposal to stabilize funding by modifying the tax base (See also, blog post on local levy swap)



(PTAs can urge action, just can’t use school resources to lobby):
Call for education-
Worried about your child's education? You should be. K-12 could take a serious blow. Call the legislative hotline, 1-800-562-6000.
Tell them, “K-12 education is the state’s paramount duty. Cutting days means less for kids. It’s inequitable and unstable.”
CONTEXT: The idea to cut four school days is bad for kids, and Washington State PTA strongly opposes it.
  • It hurts our most vulnerable, denying them access to federal food programs and essential services, and adding to child-care costs when parents can least afford it. 
  • It creates a legal mess with long-term consequences.
  • It further delays college- and career-aligned graduation requirements. 
  • It puts even more pressure on unstable levies and uncertain local effort assistance. 
Washington State PTA advocates for children’s well-being and education and is reviewing all revenue options. Programs that support children and families are on the line, but the state can’t raid basic education to fund them. All school funding is driven by the number of days in the school year. If the state cuts days, it cuts all allocations. If legislators start arbitrarily changing the school year, schools won’t be able predict their allocations from year to year. A four-day loss means more cuts to busing, maintenance, supplies – and another 2.2 percent cut in salary allocations that must be negotiated with staff (following up on pay cuts made or somehow absorbed this year).  Hundreds of contracts will need to be re-opened.
And the kicker? To do this the state has to redefine "basic education" and argue kids don't need that time in school. This when all the evidence tells us otherwise.
CALL THE HOTLINE: 1-800-562-6000. Call now.
RACE AND EQUITY guidelines to voluntarily pursue diversity or avoid racial isolation in public schools.

ENGLISH, SOCIAL STUDIES added to high school graduation requirements: Moving ahead
Washington State PTA advocates for the well-being and education of all children. In this special budget cutting session we are asking legislators to prioritize the Program of Basic Education and Apple Health for Children. We are extremely concerned about critical cuts to levy equalization and programs that support children and their families; we urge legislators to review all revenue options.

Washington State PTA supports tax policies that are fair and equitable and that provide stable, adequate revenues for public education and programs that benefit youth. We do not support expansion of gambling.

Amply funding education for all children is the state’s paramount duty, and yet nearly $3 billion has been cut from K-12 schools in the last three years.  In all, state spending has been cut $10.5 billion in three years. The largest percentage – 26 percent -- of that came from K-12; another 19 percent came from cuts to state and K-12 employee compensation.

Some reading for you: Cuts hit hard at education, health care, state economies

Ramona Hattendorf, Government Relations Coordinator, Washington State PTA, www.wastatepta.org

Our vision: Making every child’s potential a reality.
Washington State PTA is the largest volunteer organization in Washington with more than 143,000 members last year.  Founded in 1905, the association is a powerful voice for children and a resource for parents. It provides leadership training and support to more than 900 local PTAs across the state.

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