Monday, April 29, 2013

Just in time learning: Basic Ed 101

All education funding is not equal; “basic ed” is protected

Session update:
No deal for kids. Talk shifts to adult needs. Next session starts May 13
In a legislative session that was “all about McCleary” and living up to promises made four years ago to expand and fund basic education, the state legislature ended its 2013 general session Sunday night without a budget and without agreeing on key K-12 issues – such as how much money to put into the program of basic education.

The divide isn’t just about K-12 money for the next two years, or even overall funding levels. The divide is about how much money moves into the “protected” realm of basic education. And the question for Washington State PTA is just how much of a long-term commitment will the legislature make to a million-plus public school children?

Take Action: Commit to kids; stop delaying on basic education

A legal strategy

The two chambers remain divided not only on how much to spend overall on K-12, but how much to put into the program of basic education, which is important from a legal perspective. All education money is not equal. The program of basic education is legally protected. The state can’t cut it for fiscal reasons; it has to have a policy reason. This is per court ruling in school funding lawsuits that preceded the 2012 McCleary decision.

This is why over the last few years money to lower class sizes was cut. It was enhancement funding. In contrast, school days were not. Basic education is legally defined, in part, as 180 school days. Once class sizes are funded as part of basic education, the state is committed.

This is why Washington State PTA has worked so hard for so long to redefine basic education and better align required allocations with what kids need. In the complicated world of education funding, “flexibility” translates to “the state isn’t on the hook.”

Washington State PTA does not want access to full-day kindergarten,  small K-3 class sizes and adequate instructional time in middle and high school to be funded as “enhancements” – something the state can easily cut or something that can be pushed down to local school districts to fund via excess levy. We want them funded as part of “basic education” so the money will be stable and equitable. This is also why we have lobbied so hard for the expanded graduation requirements. We want all students to have access to the courses that will prepare them for family-wage work, advanced training or college.

In 2009, the state legislature agreed and with strong bipartisan support passed House Bill 2261 and broadened the definition of basic education.  So from a long-term perspective, the more money we can put into basic education, the more stable and equitable funding for everyone, across the state, will be. School districts can plan better if they know that they can rely on the funding.

Another consideration: Some categorical funding is based on total basic education allocations, like funding for students enrolled in special education. Boosting the basic education allocation will increase funding for those programs. Boosting enhancement funding, such as funds for school turnaround, will not.

So when you hear something like “both House and Senate put a billion into education” you need to understand there is more to the story. The Senate proposed about $700 million for basic education. The House proposed $1.3 billion for basic education.

We want the biggest long-term commitment.

So … what’s next?

The budget writers have said they will continue to meet and try to work out a deal. The governor has called a special session for May 13. In addition to budgets to discuss, there will likely be bills considered “necessary to implement the budget.” There could also be policy bills.

Some issues to be negotiated:

Tax preferences: The House would end about 2 percent of the 640 exemptions to the state Business and Occupation tax and put the savings into K-12 education and higher education. The plan would raise $900 million.  The Senate plan does not increase revenue. Out of the mix: Extending the beer tax.

Reform bills: Several policy bills – or at least concepts -- remain in play, including K-3 reading; suspensions and expulsions; tests required for graduation; grading schools A-F; and changes to alternative learning.

-- Ramona Hattendorf, government relations coordinator, Washington State PTA
Note: This post originally referenced funding for highly capable as dependent on general basic education allocations. Highly capable funding is a percentage of enrollment at a school. Special education funding from the state is based on enrollment and a percentage of general basic education allocations. Both categorical programs are part of basic education.


  1. I have to disagree with a portion of your statement. You write that "Some categorical funding is based on total basic education allocations, like funding for students enrolled in special education and highly capable programs. Boosting the basic education allocation will increase funding for those programs."

    What WAC 392-170-012 actually says is "For highly capable students, access to accelerated learning and enhanced instruction is access to a basic education. School districts may access basic education funds, in addition to highly capable categorical funds, to provide appropriate highly capable student programs."

    While it may seem that I'm splitting hairs, there is a significant difference between saying that increasing basic education funding WILL increase funding for HCP, and saying that it MAY increase funding for HCP. Here's why that word matters.

    All session long, advocates for highly capable have been told that so much money is being put into basic ed that some of that money is likely to spill over into HCP. We've been told that all we need to do is have parents approach their local school boards and ask for their piece of the pie.

    There is no other part of basic education that is being told that to ensure proper funding, parents must go to their local school boards and ask for it. In 2010 - 2011, 40% of districts spent $0 state dollars on HCP. A recent report from OSPI showed that 140% more students received HCP services funded by local levy funds than were funded by state categorical dollars.

    Relying on local school districts to decide whether to fund a portion of basic education, and how much to fund a portion of basic education, is neither fair nor equitable. It is why the QEC has recommended three times that HCP be funded at 5% of enrollment, and not the current 2.314% of enrollment. That recommendation has yet to be included by the legislature in any bill or budget.

    Legislators want us to believe the narrative that more money for basic education WILL result in more funding for HCP. It MAY. But history has indicated that leaving it up to individual districts to fund or not, and how much to fund, has resulted in inequalities in access and inequalities in programming. Access to highly capable programming should not depend on your zip code.

  2. Absolutely, there are issues with access to highly capable K-12 programming. But the mathematical formula for a per student allocation for highly capable and special education is based on the general allocation for basic education.

    That's not a statement about whether the resulting money will be enough or whether schools will choose to use it. (They can also choose not to use federal Title 1 money if they don't care for the strings attached.) It just means that 2 percent of $5 billion, say, is more than 2 percent of $4 billion.

    Increasing basic education increases the pool of money available for other linked funding streams. Increasing other areas of K-12 funding does not. And once the overall level of "basic education" is commited to, legally it is difficult to roll it back.

    The formula for state funding of special education is more complicated. From the state superintendent's office:

    "The state special education formula consists of an allocation for children with disabilities birth through pre-kindergarten and kindergarten through 21. The allocation for special education students age K–21 is based on a maximum of 12.7 percent of the district’s total K–12 resident FTE enrollment times .9309 of the district’s basic education allocation (BEA). Birth through pre-kindergarten special education students are funded at the district’s BEA times 1.15. State special education allocations can be viewed on the School Apportionment and Financial Services (SAFS) website in Report 1220 Special Education Allocation."

  3. No, that is not correct.

    For highly capable programming, the general basic education allocation does not enter the picture. The highly capable funding formula provides funding based on 2.314% of total student enrollment, to provide on average for 2.159 hours of instruction per week in a class size of fifteen. That is all the formula says.

    Increasing the overall basic education allocation MAY result in more equity among districts in access to highly capable programming, if each district individually decides to allocate some of its basic education allotment to highly capable programming, but there is no direct link between the basic education allocation and highly capable programming.

    Highly capable advocates absolutely agree that we need to increase state funding for basic education. But increasing basic education funding does not result in increased highly capable program funding. If anything, the current budget proposals which all say they provide for "maintenance level funding for highly capable" could result in less funding being available per district. If all 100% of our districts,instead of the 60% who do now, access the same pool of funds, and try to use it to cover kids from K-12, instead of the 3-6 range that most who do provide programming serve now, try to access the same pool of funding, there will be less money available to be distributed per district.