Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Updated Post on Social and Emotional Learning / Breakfast after the Bell

For the second year in a row, legislation mandating schools in high poverty areas to offer a healthy breakfast to hungry children has stalled in the legislature.  Last year, the bill came very close, but was unable to make the final hurdle.  The same thing happened again this year, only this time, the House and Governor's budget actually funded the issue in a line item only to have the Senate version fall short. 

Not to be Outdone - Senate Republicans and Senate Democrats Offer Their Compensation/Levy Proposals, too...

Just when you thought the legislative session was going to close on the equitable funding discussion for McCleary, the House and Senate came out with Teacher Compensation proposals late last week.  The competing proposals would shift the funding for teacher compensation away from local taxpayers and over to the state.  The resulting shift would have the state to fully fund basic education and leave levies, as originally intended, to pay for additional enhancements. 

State Treasurer McIntire Makes Bold Play - Offers Comprehensive Tax Reform to Fully Fund McCleary and Higher Education.

Concerned about the effects of McCleary on our long term budget outlook and reacting to concerns from the bond market, the State Treasurer’s office offered a revenue reform package earlier this week.  State Treasurer Jim McIntire upped the stakes in the dueling budget wars by offering a bold, comprehensive state revenue reform program that would increase the state’s competitiveness, reduce the tax burden on low and middle income residents, and fully fund basic and higher education.  

School Superintendent Randy Dorn Offers Fully Funded "Go-Home" McCleary Proposal

Citing the need to take the discussion on resolving the McCleary Lawsuit to a new level, State School Superintendent Randy Dorn introduced his plan to fully fund McCleary last week at a press conference in Olympia.  The proposal would extend the phase-in of McCleary to 6 years in order to leave time to recruit and train enough teachers and support staff to meet class size reduction requirements.  Unlike current plans on the table, the Dorn Plan funds class size reductions for K-12 and require fully funding teacher compensation at the state level.  His revenue proposal was rolled out in an additional press conference on Monday morning and is described below in a separate article.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

“Every Child Achieves Act of 2015,” bipartisan Senate legislation to reauthorize the ESEA/NCLB

The U.S. Senate is at work on the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) also known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  The new legislation is titled  Every Child Achieves Act.  The bill is being marked up in committee this week.  If you are signed up for National PTA Action Alerts, you received one on Monday.  You can access that link here:  http://cqrcengage.com/npta2/app/write-a-letter?2&engagem.  For more information from National PTA continue reading below

Sunday, April 12, 2015

A Tale of the House and Senate Budgets

With both the Senate and House budgets now seeing the light of day, there is time to compare and contrast them both. The non-partisan budget website run by the Legislative Evaluative and Accountability Program and the Office of Financial Management website compares the House and Senate budget's here.  That graphic goes deep into the weeds and develops a side by side fiscal comparison between the two proposals.  The key differences in the budgets are as follows:  

1) How revenue is generated for each proposal
2) Funding Higher Education
3) The approach to teacher and state employee cost of living increases
4) Level and extent given to funding capital dollars for school construction.

Senate Capital Budget with SB 6080 Shows Promise Towards McCleary, but Still Far Off Goal

The Senate Capital Budget Committee heard Substitute Senate Bill 6080 in committee last week. This was the second time the bill was heard and the PTA was able to participate in both hearings. The substitute senate bill made changes based on some recommendations offered by PTA issue team lead, Eden Mack. The bill creates a separate program allowing school districts to apply for grants to help fund additional K-3 classrooms due to the class size reduction requirements of McCleary.  The basic difference between the existing School Capital Assistance Program (SCAP) and the K-3 Grants is here.  The bill in its entirety is found here.

Social and Emotional Learning Marches Forward, Breakfast after the Bell Hits Snag

For the second year in a row, legislation mandating schools in high poverty areas to offer a healthy breakfast to hungry children has stalled in the legislature.  Last year, the bill came very close, but was unable to make the final hurdle.  The same thing happened again this year, only this time, the House and Governor's budget actually funded the issue in a line item only to have the Senate version fall short. 

April 9th, 1865 Appomattox Courthouse

One hundred and fifty years ago on April 9th, General Lee surrendered to General Grant in Appomattox Courthouse signaling the end of the four year long civil war in the United States and ensuring the preservation of the union.  Although hostilities continued until May, April 9th is recognized as the end of the Civil War.  The victorious Union Army met again for one of the largest military reviews in Washington, D.C. a few months later.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Vaping Bill Heard in House

While our Senators (hopefully) were able to sleep in after their all-nighter, the House was up and about at 8AM for Friday hearings in the Finance Committee. After a few brief hearings on Senate bills, the Finance Committee paused for caucus then dived into the main event.  The photo to the right was taken shortly before the start of the hearing which was standing room only.  House Bill 2211 provides for a licensing structure for vaping products, 60% surtax on sales of vaping items, and a timeline to develop rules for licensure by October 1st, 2015.  

The hearing had 22 individuals signed up to speak, and testimony was led off by the two sponsors of the bill, Rep. Gerry Pollet and Rep. Paul Harris.  Pollet stated, "This bill is about youth prevention for the addiction to nicotine and it is about how we accomplish that which the research… shows that you cannot do the youth prevention without increasing the price of e-cigarettes.  At the 60% tax, which is paid by the distributor, even the most expensive product here would be 50% less than smoking cigarettes.”

Rep. Harris replied “I believe in economics that there is a direct correlation between the consumption of a product and the cost of a product.”  He went on to share that he “had the opportunity to talk to 60 individuals of the 350 calls we fielded in my office.  Many of these individuals had vaped for longer than one year, but all had the intentions of quitting.  Of those, 25% of those individuals were actually vaping more nicotine than when they started.” 

In addition to Representatives Pollet and Harris, WA State Health Secretary John Weisman shared his support for the bill.  “Vaping rates are skyrocketing in our high schools with 1 in 5 10th Graders and 1 in 4 12th graders vaping in the previous 30 days.  This is troubling because when kids vape they inhale nicotine.  Nicotine is addictive… and is especially so with (children’s) developing brains.  It took decades of work to change the social norms regarding smoking.  We are now seeing rapid normalization of vaping among school children.  This is not acceptable and the tobacco companies know it.”  Secretary Weisman went on to say that although the science isn’t complete on the issue, he agreed that for adult smokers, vaping is a safer alternative to continuing to use smoking tobacco products.  

Some of the Republican members of the Finance Committee were concerned that increasing the costs may lead to the creation of a black market or increases in non-taxed online sales or purchases from other states.  Other committee members and members of the public followed up on the concerns with the increased cost and how that may affect adults who are trying to quit smoking.  
The challenge for the lawmakers is to develop a series of rules to keep children away from vaping products while allowing smokers an avenue to exit the use of cigarettes.  The bill is not yet scheduled to be voted out of committee. The last day for this bill to be voted out will be Tuesday, April 7th.  There are similar bills that have also been heard in other committees, increasing the likelihood that some changes in how vaping products are regulated will occur this session.

Monday, April 6, 2015

House Passes Operating and Capital Budgets - Let the Negotiations Begin!

The House passed their operating budget on a party line vote, but passed a Capital Budget on a 96-2 bipartisan vote on Thursday.  The PTA has concerns with the capital budget as it does not go far enough to address the crushing need for classroom space.  The operating budget, although a major step forward, still falls short of one of the marquee goals of McCleary - reducing the reliance on local taxpayers to foot the bill for basic education.

The House and the Senate will now begin negotiations on how to resolve the yawning gap between both budgets. The good news is that there is agreement in expanding funding maintenance, supplies, and operating costs (MSOC), moving to all day kindergarten, and reducing class size to 17 for all K-3 classrooms. The bad news is that there is a wide gap between the House and Senate on costs for Higher Education, revenue addition / reform, and compensation for teachers and state employees.  
House Speaker Pro Tem, Jim Moeller, when asked by the Columbian, seemed resolved to the legislature going into special session to resolve the disagreements.   The PTA has talked with many legislators and our perspective is that the sea change that is required by McCleary may take more time than the 105 day regular session allows.  PTA Legislative Director Sherry Krainick shared this thought with members.  "We also understand that the legislature may go into extra innings, and we accept that as necessary to resolve the challenges that they have before them. I caution our PTA members to be supportive and let your legislators know that it is o'k to stay in Olympia longer so long as we make meaningful progress on McCleary. This is going to take time."

The legislature will resume floor action on April 6th

Senate Pulls an All Nighter - Still Working on Budget

The Senate ran a marathon hearing on the budget and related bills all day Thursday, ending their session at 4:17AM.  The day started with a debate on the rules of engagement.  The Senate majority passed a requirement that any amendment would require 60% of the body to pass.  The Senate broke for caucus several times, and engaged later in the day to run through a whopping 74 proposed amendments. Some of the amendments were withdrawn by the sponsor before introduction or tabled after a ruling, leaving over 50 that were heard and voted on in a roll call vote of the entire body. Due to the rules change, very few amendments passed. The speeches were impassioned and the tempers flared, but, in the end, the Senate made it through all but two of the proposals.  

On a positive note, one of the few proposals that did pass was an education amendment by Senator Warnick.  Her proposal funds a 1 million dollar grant to OSPI to contract with a non-profit to develop a program to integrate state learning standards in English language arts, mathematics, and science with outdoor field studies and project/work based learning opportunities that align with environmental, natural resources ,and agricultural professions.

The Senate will resume debate on the budget on April 6th

Sunday, April 5, 2015

PTA on House Budget - Still Needs Improvement

The Washington State PTA was on hand in Olympia all day Monday to testify on the Capital and Operating Budgets as proposed in the State House of Representatives.  Unlike the Capital Budget, the PTA testified with concerns on the operating budget offered by Representative Ross Hunter.  McCleary team lead Eden Mack shared her concerns with the committee, "We understand that this is one of the largest investments in K-12 Education in a very long time - but it is still not enough to meet the McCleary mandate."  

Mack was flanked by PTA Legislative Director Sherry Krainick and PTA members Steve Nesich and Kelly Bowers.  The challenge before the legislature was how to maintain critical funding for kids outside the classroom while still advocating for significant budget increases for K-12.  The House budget sought to strike this balance, but did not go far enough to address one of the key components of McCleary - the continued reliance on local taxpayers to fund portions of basic education that is supposed to be the dominion of the legislature.  

One of the key pieces of the local funding issue is teacher compensation.  Director Krainick testified in committee on this issue, bringing up the lack of focus on the legislature's own committee, the Compensation Technical Working Group, which offered recommendation on teacher compensation and professional learning.  "Our local levies will continue to pay for basics, including teacher compensation, when they should be used to provide high school students with access to a 7th period day so they can meet our new graduation requirements."  This issue is part of the PTA platform which was passed last October at legislative assembly.

The House voted the budget out of committee late last night and it is likely to be passed out of the House later in the week.  The underlying tax proposals to fund the increases in education and freezing tuition rates was held in the Finance Committee Tuesday morning.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

PTA to Capital Budget Committee - Need to Do Better

The Washington State PTA led by Legislative Director Sherry Krainick and Capital Budget leads Susan Baird-Joshi and Eden Mack came out strongly for increasing the commitment to funding K-12 capital needs.  “If we are serious about addressing the needs brought up in McCleary, we need to show a demonstrated commitment in the State Capital Budget.  There is currently a lack of quality facilities to support the reduction of class size and expansion to all day kindergarten that is part of the McCleary solution," said Director Krainick.
Sending in her comments on the concerns in Lake Washington, Capital Budget lead Susan Baird-Joshi shared her concerns with just being able to keep up with needs in her district.  "Since 2012, our district has been the fastest-growing school district in King County. Current enrollment stands at more than 26,000 and it’s projected to grow close to 30,000 by 2021-22. Existing classroom space will not accommodate those growing numbers."

The challenges for capital funding were also shared by Kelly Bowers from Seattle.  She testified to the need for ADA compliant facilities at her daughter’s middle school.  She was joined on the panel by Eden Mack who shared her frustration with the lack of commitment to funding K-12 capital programs. Also joining the legislative team in person and through delivered testimony was Steve Nesich and Bertha Bonds.

The House voted the Capital Budget out of Committee Tuesday morning and it is expected to pass out of the House by the end of the week.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Some Good, Some Bad - Senate Budget Yields a Different View Than House

The Senate introduced its version of the budget on Wednesday.  Senator Andy Hill headed up the press conference and was flanked by most members of the Republican Caucus.  Both budgets fully funded MSOC , reduced K-3 class size, and funded all-day kindergarten, but the amount each budget determined to be necessary to meet that goal differed.  In addition, both budgets were balanced assuming a partial repeal of I-1351.  Senator Hill’s budget has actually offered legislation to that effect with Senate Bill 6088.  Neither budget, however significantly addressed the issue of local levies funding items that have been deemed to be part of basic education.  However, Senator Hill hinted that discussions on that issue are occurring.

The key differences between both budgets include:
  1. House budget funds a portion of the improvements with new revenue, the Senate, although allowing some tax preferences to sunset, does not raise new revenue.
  2. The House proposal to repeal parts of I-1351 does not have a referendum clause whereas the Senate version does.
  3. The House includes teacher compensation and includes funding for health care benefits whereas the Senate comes in at a lower rate for compensation
  4. The House funds state employee pay raises based on a percentage that has been negotiated with the Governor’s office and labor unions.  The Senate version offers an adjustment based on a $2,000 increase for the biennium – thereby raising low income workers by a higher percentage.
  5. The House funds the tuition freeze that was voted out of the Senate.  The Senate doubles down by offering to pay for reductions of tuition for four year institutions by up to 25% by the end of the biennium.
  6. Both budgets fund Social and Emotional Learning Study, but only the House addresses Breakfast after the Bell.  Senator Litzow has indicated that there is willingness to work on this issue all the way to the end of the session. 
  7. Both budgets provide for enhanced early learning and child care, but the House funds it at a higher rate.

According to McCleary Lead Eden Mack who was on hand to testify today, “I am grateful for the increase in K-12 spending… (but) it clearly does not go far enough to meet the state’s obligation to amply fund K-12 education. “   Due to the legislature not making significant strides in addressing the use of local levies for funding teacher salaries, there are concerns that the Supreme Court may deliver sanctions to the Legislature shortly after the close of session.  Time will tell.

The Senate is currently hearing the budget in committee and will pass it from Ways and Means tonight.  It is planned to be voted off the Senate floor on Thursday.  For a side by side comparison of the House and Senate Education Budget, click here.