Monday, March 14, 2016

Special Session Called, Budget Still to Be Done

After the Legislature gaveled the 2016 regular session to a close around 9:30 p.m. March 10, lawmakers found themselves called back into a special session about 30 minutes later. Governor Jay Inslee called the special session after vetoing 27 of 37 Senate bills that had come to his desk under a “five-day rule,” saying the vetoes were a message to lawmakers to focus on their primary job of updating supplemental operating and capital budgets.

Senate Republicans unveiled an operating budget proposal to negotiators that evening, and held a public hearing on the revised spending plan on Friday at 2 p.m. While both House and Senate Democrats said the proposal addresses some of their issues, they indicated that more work needed to be done before they had a deal. It was expected that budget negotiators met over the weekend.

Policy issues left unaddressed in the K-12 world include a bill that would extend increased levy authority another year (SB 6353 or HB 2698), increased compensation for beginning teachers, and siting schools outside of the urban growth area.

WSPTA Top Priorities
Fully Fund McCleary
The final 2016 supplemental operating budget is not expected to include new investments in K-12 basic education. In fact, the Senate Republican proposal would shift about $17 million in “unspent” K-3 funding appropriated last session to other spending priorities this session.

As previously mentioned, the levy cliff bills have not been passed by the Senate. One of the challenges is that extension of the levy authority through January 2019 will cost the state about $93 million in levy equalization in the 2017-19 biennium. Under a four-year balanced budget requirement, legislators must account for that spending in the 2016 supplemental budget. House Democrats proposed using money from the Budget Stabilization Account (the state’s emergency reserves) to balance the books. Senate Republicans have been reluctant to use the BSA for anything other than last summer’s wildfire needs.

In a move designed to keep the issue in play, Senator Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, called for the Senate to move to the 9th Order of Business to pull SB 6353 to the floor. While some Republicans will vote with Democrats (and vice versa) on bills, they hold the partisan line on procedural actions and the motion failed. That said, in voting to concur with House changes to ESHB 6194, the charter schools bill, Senator Brian Dansel, R-Ferry County, voted against the measure citing his concern that the levy cliff had yet to be addressed. Many believe the levy cliff issue will be resolved as part of the final negotiations, while others say the issue can be addressed by the 2017 legislature.

Promoting Social and Emotional Learning
During the legislative process, WSPTA tracked SB 6243 regarding Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). When the bill failed to pass out of the House Appropriations Committee several weeks ago, supporters got creative. All three elements of the bill reside in either a Senate or House bill that passed both chambers.

E2SHB 2439 now encompasses two elements: creating an inventory of mental health services provided to school age children, including funding sources; and one-day suicide prevention “train the trainer” session, with ongoing support if funded. The school safety bill, ESB 6620, now includes a requirement for Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to create and maintain an online social and emotional training module for educators, administrators, and other school district staff by September 1, 2017.

Increasing Capital Funding
Unlikely to move this session is HB 2968, a bill that would direct one-half of one percent that is sent to the BSA to support additional capacity for smaller K-3 class sizes and the expansion of all-day kindergarten each biennium through 2025. Last session the Legislature appropriated $200 million in capital funding for grants to school districts, and OSPI should be announcing recipients in the next month or so. Lawmakers are expected to wait to see how those grants work before making more investments in school construction and capacity.

The Senate changed SHB 2985 to apply only when a school district has failed a bond in the past five years. The bill would allow former school buildings that have been previously removed from a district’s inventory, to continue to be excluded from the School Construction Assistance Program inventory if they are used to support all-day kindergarten and/or reduced K-3 class sizes. The House concurred with the changes.

Increased Access to Higher Education
One of the bills vetoed by the Governor last week was SSB 6354, which would have begun a process to figure out how to reverse transfer academic credits from four-year institutions to community and technical colleges. If the Legislature chooses to bring the bill back during the special session, the veto requires a two-thirds vote of lawmakers for an override.

Funding to continue to back-fill the tuition reductions adopted last session was included in the latest Senate Republican proposal.

Breakfast after the Bell
There is a potential light at the end of the tunnel for E3SHB 1295, the Breakfast after the Bell bill. While it failed to pass out of the Senate budget committee, it is possible that lawmakers will adopt an alternative that would make the program voluntary and cap the amount of the one-time $6,000 grants to a total of $500,000. Since the bill didn’t pass the Senate by the end of the regular session, it returns to the House Rules Committee. However, if it is part of final budget negotiations, it would likely be modified in the House, passed to the Senate for approval, and then to the Governor’s desk.

WSPTA Platform Issues
The following bills have passed both chambers and have been delivered to the Governor’s desk:
  • HB 1345 would require the development of a consistent definition for professional learning. Sponsors say this is a step needed before funding professional development days. 
  • 2SHB 1408 would convene a work group to develop a consistent definition and framework of responsibilities for family engagement coordinators. 
  • 4SHB 1541 would implement recommendations of the Education Opportunity Gap Oversight & Accountability Committee for closing the achievement and opportunity gaps. Elements include data dis-aggregation; school discipline; requiring ELL endorsements for teachers in the state-funded Transitional Bilingual Instruction Program; cultural competency; and more.
  • E3SHB 1682 would focus on improving educational and housing opportunities for homeless youth. 
  • 4SHB 1999 would increase support for students in the foster youth system. 
  • SHB 2394 would make a goal of extending to all counties the existing Parent to Parent program by 2021. It would define in statute what the Parent to Parent Program is, including clarifying that the program applies both to individuals with developmental disabilities and/or special health care needs. 
  • HB 2597 – would expand the plan that school districts must adopt for recognition, initial screening, and response to emotional or behavioral distress in students to include indicators of sexual abuse.
Other K-12 Legislation of Interest
  • SB 6245 would require school districts to offer near and far vision screening. 
  • SSB 6273 would require OSPI to develop best practices and recommendations for instruction on digital citizenship, Internet safety, and media literacy, and report strategies for statewide implementation of the best practices and recommendations to the Legislature by December 1, 2016. The bill also would require school districts to update or adopt policies in time for the 2017-18 school year. 
  • E2SSB 6455 would begin to address the teacher shortage issue. If funded, the bill includes recruitment campaigns, fee, scholarship and loan repayment programs, an ability for school districts to hire retired teachers, expansion of the state’s teacher mentor program, and development of plans for alternative route programs to teaching between teaching colleges and school districts. 
  • ESB 6620 – would require an evaluation of how Washington and other states have addressed the funding of school safety and security programs, with a report due December 1, 2017. In addition, it would require annual safety summits, and would allow ESDs to implement a regional school safety and security program. This is the bill that was amended in the House to include the SEL training module requirements.
Possibly in Play
2SSB 6408, regarding paraeducator certification and endorsements, did not pass out of the House and therefore returns to the Senate Rules Committee. The bill may be dead for the session. In the original Senate Republican budget, funding was provided for implementation. In the Senate Republican proposed spending plan released last Thursday, no funding was included. If the bill does not pass this year, look for a renewed focus in 2017.

Dead For This Session
Fully Fund McCleary
Bills that would have closed tax loopholes to increase beginning teacher pay as proposed by Governor Jay Inslee failed to gain traction this session. In fact, on the final day of session the Senate passed a bill that would grant a sales tax exemption on construction for an aerospace company. Legislators on the Education Funding Task Force created by E2SSB 6195, which has been signed by the governor, are expected to grapple with the funding issues and bring forward recommendations for the 2017 session.

Increasing Capital Funding
HB 1941 would have allowed a simple majority to pass school district bond measures at the November general election. Bond votes at other times of the year would remain at 60 percent. HJR 4210, was the constitutional amendment to allow for simple majority on bonds. The measures had a public hearing in February but there was no widespread political support to pass this session. Representative Mia Gregerson, D-Seatac, is interested in keeping the momentum going this interim and bring the bills back in 2017.

Increased Access to Higher Education
Bills that would have created the Washington Promise Scholarship (two years of community college) or the Free to Finish program (paid tuition to those who are within 15 credits of a degree) didn’t gain the support needed to pass the Legislature this session.

Marie Sullivan
Legislative Consultant

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