Saturday, March 30, 2013

Cheat sheet on K-12 finance and budgeting

Beyond  class size: Other essential funding

When it comes to basic education, many in the media talk about salaries and class sizes. That's because salaries and benefits make up about 80 percent of school costs, and the number and size of classes drive staffing levels.

But for years, Washington State PTA has been calling attention to other necessary costs. That's because if the state doesn't fund it, local communities need to pass an excess levy, and PTAs tend to run the levy campaigns. And if the local levy doesn't cover it, then neighborhoods need to fund-raise, and PTAs tend to do the fund-raising. And finally (this is a big one that "think groups" and academics usually overlook), when the money doesn't come through, PTAs find volunteers to work for free.

After working inside schools to supplement and improve delivery for 100-plus years PTA knows a few things about funding, and longitudinal studies back us up. The essential components for successful schools are school leadership, parent and community ties, professional capacity of the faculty, school learning climate, and instructional guidance. All of these are essential. Lose one, and success of all the others drops off.

And decades of data show unequivocally that our school system does a decent job -- sometimes an outstanding one -- with typical students. The issue that needs to be addressed is how to meet the needs of the atypical student, especially in a state like Washington where "atypical" students make up the fastest growing subgroups: English language learners; special education students; students in poverty; students of different ethnic and cultural heritage.

Class size matters -- it sets a teacher's caseload. But funding must support and drive those essential components noted above. We need a funding framework that covers nuts and bolts essentials; and we need an accountability framework that helps us identify additional investment needs.

Washington State PTA is absolutely committed to getting students the support they need. Bake sales are no way to pay for schools. A failed levy can decimate a district -- even shut it down. And yet for years both public and private leaders have effectively left K-12's "other necessary costs" to fund-raising and uncertain levies while they granted tax breaks and enhanced other areas of the budget.

Almost half of our state's public school children (46 percent) are enrolled in the free and reduced price lunch program. That's an indicator of poverty and it has mushroomed as the state prioritized other budget areas ahead of  schools and as it failed to make sure it was meeting the needs of our growing "atypical" subgroups. Too many of our children are not thriving.

School budgets are local decisions  

Our basic education funding formula is driven by a "prototypical model." The state factors in standard costs for typical schools (class size, counselors, etc) to arrive at a per-student allocation. Districts receive money based on how many students they have enrolled. Then they decide how to spend it. They are not obligated to follow the "prototypical model" and most move money around to address local needs and priorities. For instance, communities where many children do not have access to preschool place a high priority on full-day kindergarten.

The prototypical model helps legislators determine whether they are sending enough to schools, and it helps community members better understand what state funding should be covering.

For instance, it is important for the state to adequately fund things like transportation, maintenance and supplies. Otherwise money that could go into staffing classrooms (or counselors, nurses, librarians and para-educators) gets diverted to cover things like heating. Salaries and benefits can also affect class sizes. If the local district chooses to supplement teacher or administrator pay beyond the state's schedule, then their state allocation will come up short. The district will either need to divert from other areas (increase class sizes, scale back course offerings in middle and high school) or ask local voters to pass an excess levy.

Actual class size is determined by local collective bargaining agreement and local budget choices -- not by the state. Class sizes vary quite a bit from district to district and sometimes even from school to school in the same district. It all depends on the contracts local districts enter into, and whether money is diverted into other areas. Class size can also depend on local demographics or popularity of a school.

The prototypical model helps legislators and citizens alike see what the per student allotment should be able to buy at a typical school, and helps people better understand what a local excess levy would buy. For instance, right now the state does not fund professional development. And learning assistance funds are based on poverty levels. Middle-class schools with struggling readers, for instance, are on their own and rely on excess local levies and fund-raising for learning support.

How does Gov. Inslee's plan match PTA priorities?

The governor's staff referred to his increases as "targeted investments" and most of the targets align with Washington State PTA's goals. The budget does not address salary increases (state-ordered analysis indicates state allocations are not competitive with similar private sector jobs) and it only minimally addresses K-3 class sizes. Both of those areas come with a big price tag and need a stable funding stream.

Here's what his targeted investments cover:

Nuts and bolts areas that we know the state underfunds and that WSPTA has called out for years:
  • Transportation (100 percent coverage; up from 76 percent)
  • An additional $234 per student for maintenance, supplies and operating costs

An integrated approach to early learning
  • High quality preschool slots for 3,035 more kids in need
  • Full-day kindergarten at 288 more schools and for 11,500 more students
  • Class sizes of 20 for K-1 students at the highest poverty schools (K-3 class sizes of 25 at other schools; local levy money would be needed to bring those down more)

Underfunding at middle and high schools that affects student access to electives, remediation and advanced course offerings.
  • 1080 hours of instructional time in grades 7-12, enough to cover a basic 6-period day and give a little room to teens who need to re-take a class or get extra support in core academic areas. Districts won't have to choose between accommodating kids who failed biology and offering AP computer science to those kids ready for the next challenge.

Professional development and mentoring support for new teachers and principals.
  • 18 hours of professional development; up from zero
  • Mentoring support for all new teachers (stipends for mentor and mentored, to cover additional time; mentors would be colleagues in the same school)
  • One-year residency slots for 50 new principals
Investments to close achievement gaps, help struggling students and schools
  • $12.5 million for 3rd-grade literacy, tied to evidence-based practices
  • $21.9 million for the bilingual program
  • $25.3 million in learning support for kids in grades 6-9
  • $12.5 million for school turnaround support
Science Technology Engineering and Math
  • $10.9 million to design statewide strategy to improve STEM education
Worth noting:
  • Total additional pre-K to grade 12 spending: $1.26 billion. (Keep in mind about $2.7 billion was cut from K-12 during the recession, and the McCleary suit was filed and evidence entered before those cuts took effect.)
  • The governor's budget funds education ahead of tax breaks that have limited value to the state.
  • It does not sacrifice other services that keep children healthy and safe.
  • The big downside is that it does not address a stable funding source for the significant investments the state still needs to make, and it puts off K-3 class size reduction for all but the highest poverty schools, and then only touches on K-1 class sizes. However, class sizes may still come down since money won't need to be diverted to transportation, maintenance, supplies and other basic operating costs.

What others are saying about the budget

Inslee's budget ideas go into a contentious atmosphere/On Crosscut
Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled ideas for big increases in education spending, partly financed with elimination of tax breaks.

WSPTA note: Good review of tax break dilemma. Excerpt:
"The state has more than 630 tax exemptions in effect. The Legislature has terminated only a handful in the past several years. About 30 bills to create new tax breaks have been introduced so far in this session." (Emphasis added)
Question: Will the state prioritize education in revenue and budgeting? WSPTA supports an education first budgeting process -- this includes covering basic K-12 costs before the state gives away revenue in tax breaks or adds new program costs.

Inslee’s budget boosts agencies /The Olympian
Public sector worker unions’ contracts would be honored

WSPTA note: Reviews commitments and cuts made to public employees, including the cuts made to salary allocations for K-12 employees. (Some districts absorbed those costs and did not cut staff pay; others negotiated furlough days.)

WSPTA's legislative priorities include:
  1. Advance Basic Education Reforms
  2. Fund Education First
  3. Closing the Opportunity Gaps
  4. Revenue for Kids
  5. Access to Highly Effective Teachers
ALSO SUPPORTED – Listed alphabetically
- Ramona Hattendorf, Government Relations Coordinator, Washington State PTA

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