Saturday, April 6, 2013

Testimony - Senate operating budget, 2013-15

Bill information: SB 5034
Click here to comment on the budget bill
Click here to comment about tax breaks
What does the budget mean? Possibly, delay in restoring K-12 or cuts to other essential services

Highlights of live testimony:

Click here for video clip
  • Thank you very much for the additional funding put into K-12.
  • It leaves a lot on table. We do not see a clear phase-in plan for various elements of 2009’s basic education bill, notably increased instructional time in middle and high school and roll out of full-day kindergarten. We would like to see more of that.
  • We do see relief around essential funding. Maintenance, supplies and operating costs and transportation alone won’t close the achievement gap. But by fully funding them you will stop the diversion. Right now we are seeing diversion of funds from instructional support to things like heat. So it does make a difference, and it will help.
  • We would like to thank you for the increase in the learning assistance program and designation of funds to improve persistently struggling schools.
  • Our position has been and remains that funding matters a great deal, but we also need to make sure what we are doing is smart, that we’re helping the kids, and that we are making the best use of a finite pool of money. We are very aware that the money you are putting into K-12 means it is not available for other services; we want to make sure it is well spent.

Followup written testimony:

To: Senate Ways and Means Committee
Re:  Education spending; SB 5034 (pro, education section) and SB 5895 (concerns)

Dear Chairman Hill and Senators,

To follow up on Washington State PTA’s position on your budget proposal and on funding education:

1. We do not have a position on the budget proposal in its entirety; we are still reviewing.  We support your education budget as far as it goes. Flexible money will make a huge difference during these transitional years until we get to full funding of basic education.

We would prefer more funding overall and we would especially like to see 1080 instructional hours funded in middle and high school so the state can implement the 24-credit career and college ready graduation requirements in the 2014-15 school year. Putting money into early grades helps ensure students progress into middle school at grade level, and we value that highly. But to truly build bridges to jobs and higher education the state needs to meet basic education needs of middle and high school students – primarily by covering a six-period day and freeing up resources so kids can take any necessary study skill or remediation classes. The additional math and science components of the graduation requirements are essential if the state wants to move forward with a strong STEM presence.

That said, we are very appreciative of the money you put into K-12, and I want to repeat that we do not take the investment lightly. We remain committed to continuous improvement and focused attention on meeting the needs of atypical students. We also realize the state needs to carefully transition into full funding, Money that goes into K-12 is money you can’t put into other essential services.

Which brings me to my second point.

2. We do support revenue over cuts to programs that benefit children. Washington State PTA advocates for the well-being and education of children. We do not want one funded at the expense of the other. We are asking the state to tackle education first (it is the elephant in the room and the state is under a court order), but we are not asking for an education-only budget. We do not differentiate over raising revenue to cover education increases and raising revenue to cover other children’s  programs. At the end of the day we want revenue that covers what kids need.

If you are looking at making cuts to children’s programming, please end tax exemptions. Our Fund Education First position extends to funding education before granting tax breaks. And going forward, as the next level of funding needs to be implemented, we ask you to seriously consider fundamental tax changes to ensure our state’s essential services have a stable revenue source.

Many thanks for your work on the budget. You have a particularly complex job and our members appreciate all that you do.
Note on the Senate approach: Various groups requested certain budget strategies, such as fully fund all-day kindergarten, or put more money into class size reduction. Washington State PTA did not ask the state to take a particular approach, but in all our budget advocacy we emphasize the importance of an integrated pre-K to grade 3 approach: more pre-school; more full-day kindergarten; small K-3 class sizes; and more family engagement. And we have long lobbied the state to pay for a full six periods in middle and high school so that we can roll out the career-and-college-ready graduation requirements.
But ultimately, school budgets are drafted locally. Money allocated for one purpose can be diverted to cover other pressing costs. The Senate approach arguably gives districts the most flexibility. It stops the back filling for maintenance essentials that districts were forced into. This then frees up local funds to be used however the local community chooses. They can lower class size, roll out more full-day K, add instructional time, or offer more professional development.
The downside -- and it is a big one -- is that the rate of investment is too slow to satisfy the McCleary requirements by 2018. The League of Education Voters estimated full funding at the Senate rate wouldn't come until 2028. Fully funding K-12 education without raising revenue means either K-12 will never be funded at the levels committed to in legislation from 2009 and during state testimony in the McCleary case, or that other essential services could be cut substantially.
Washington State PTA supports revenue for kids. Click here to read why. Click here to send an action alert to your legislators.

-- Ramona Hattendorf, Government Relations Coordinator, WSPTA

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