Monday, April 25, 2016

Ed Funding Task Force Sets Interim Schedule, Topics to Start

Members of the eight-member Joint Legislative Education Funding Task Force created by ESSB6195 during the 2016 session decided they would meet at least monthly starting in May, and would begin by “defining basic education.” The task force was created to identify a path forward for the state to reduce its reliance on local levies for funding obligations and to increase compensation so that it attracts and retains a skilled educator work force. A nifty chart shows the current responsibilities, and reports or recommendations from previous task forces or work groups, including links to resource information.

Seven members and the Governor’s representative, Policy Director Matt Steuerwalt, convened their first meeting April 20 (watch the 90-minute meeting here). In addition to setting an interim schedule, members agreed co-chairs should represent the majority Senate and House chambers and that Steuerwalt should continue his role as facilitator. Members also decided that they needed to see what kinds of data school districts could provide to better understand data limitations, and so that the task force can make requests for additional data collection or dis-aggregation that meets their needs in evaluating compensation issues. 

Based on a briefing by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) regarding accounting and data collection, the task force also indicated an interest in hearing from the State Auditor’s Office and OSPI to get preliminary recommendations on updating accounting procedures that would include revenue source to expenditure coding and school-level accounting data that might lead to better understanding and reporting for revenue and expenditures.

Lawmakers seemed surprised to learn that school districts didn’t have the authority to create separate funds to track revenue v. expenditures but were limited to a single general fund, and heard about the limits of separating funding streams by what they paid for. Lorrell Noahr of OSPI (formerly Senate Ways & Means staff) described it like a joint checking account – both parents deposit their paychecks into the account, so it’s impossible to tell whose dollar paid for their kid’s shoes. One suggestion was to include a panel of school district business officers at a future meeting to explain how accounting works at the local level.

The task force also heard that the Washington State Institute for Public Policy has issued an RFP for the compensation consultant, with a deadline of April 26th for submissions. Members agreed that the task force co-chairs should be involved in reviewing the top proposals. The consultant analysis will include reports, such as Washington Learns and the 2012 Compensation Technical Working Group report. The consultant has an initial deadline of September 1, 2016 for a report on compensation, and a final report of November 15, 2016.

Legislative members attending Wednesday’s meeting were: Senator John Braun, R-20; Senator Andy Billig, D-3; Senator ChristineRolfes, D-23; Representative Kris Lytton, D-40 (by phone); Representative Chad Magendanz, R-5; Representative NormaSmith, R-10; and Representative Pat Sullivan, D-47. Steuerwalt said that Senator Ann Rivers, the eighth member of the task force, was unable to attend.

The next meeting will be scheduled the second week of May. Members identified the second week of the month as a target week to schedule future meetings. Public comment was not listed on the agenda, but was offered as an opportunity, and will likely be offered at other meetings. The general consensus was to hold meetings in Olympia to keep costs lower. Materials will be available on the legislative web site.  

Marie Sullivan
WSPTA Legislative Consultant

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

2016 Legislative Session Summary

When legislators convened for the start of the 2016 session on January 11, everyone expected lawmakers to finish on time or even a little early. Sadly, it was not to be. On March 10, Governor Jay Inslee called a special session just 30 minutes after the regular 60-day session ended so that lawmakers could pass supplemental operating and capital budgets.

The special session ran 20 days before the Legislature agreed to compromises on budgets and bills, including $34 million in K-3 classroom facility spending (HB 2380, capital budget) and about $15 million in K-12 education spending (HB 2376, operating budget). The supplemental K-12 funding included $3.5 million for beginning teacher support (SB 6455), $1.75 million for professional development in the 2016-17 school year for paraeducators, and an additional $3.7 million for students who are homeless or in the foster youth system and to help close the opportunity gap. A net of about $4 million was appropriated for the charter schools legislation (SB 6194).

Left undone this session were large investments in basic education or K-12 construction, with legislators pointing to investments during the 2015 session and the lack of increased revenue to make increases in 2016. Also proposed but not acted upon were bills to increase beginning teacher compensation by closing a few tax loopholes, extend increased school district levy authority an additional year, allow school districts to build schools outside of the urban growth boundary under certain conditions, and create a “breakfast after the bell” program in high poverty schools. 

WSPTA Legislative Priorities Scorecard

Fully Funding McCleary
As mentioned above, no significant investments were made in basic education to meet funding obligations ordered through the McCleary lawsuit. In the short session, legislators said there just wasn’t enough time or information to move forward on reducing the state’s reliance on local levies for basic education and to increase teacher compensation.

SB 6195 was one of the first bills passed and signed into law. The bill formalized the Education Funding Task Force, a group of eight legislators who began meeting with the Governor’s Office last fall after the Washington Supreme Court found the Legislature in contempt of McCleary and ordered a fine of $100,000 a day.

The newly anointed task force will focus on levy reform and teacher compensation, along with making recommendations on a number of thorny issues such as statewide collective bargaining for teachers and creating a state-run educator health care plan. On their schedule is also an independent salary study to determine competitive wages and benefits to help districts attract and retain high quality educators. The consultant’s preliminary salary recommendation is due September 1st, with final data and analysis provided by November 15th. The task force must submit its report and recommendations to the Legislature by January 9, 2017.

Legislators failed to act on the informally called “levy cliff,” instead opting to include what they said was a backstop in case the Legislature didn’t act quickly enough in 2017. Section 515 of the supplemental operating budget requires the task force to determine by April 1, 2017 whether the Legislature is on track to meet its obligations regarding teacher compensation and levy reform by April 30th or to introduce legislation that will extend current levy authority for at least one calendar year, with the objective of passing the legislation by April 30th. Many legislators were not appeased by the language, and voted against the operating budget on final passage. Without action, districts stand to lose access to about $450 million across the state in local levy funding and may be forced to issue layoff notices next spring or cut programs to make up for the shortfall. Look for a discussion of how to eliminate state reliance on local levies to be a central component of the Education Funding Task Force work this interim. 

Social and Emotional Learning
Bills that were associated with social and emotional learning failed to pass by various deadlines, but found their way into two other policy bills that passed the Legislature and were signed into law April 1.

E2SHB 2439 includes 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.  ESB 6620 includes a requirement for 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
The compromise supplemental capital budget includes a $34.5 million bump to the $200 million investment in K-3 classroom facilities that the 2015 Legislature adopted. The budget also adds $34.8 million to the School Construction Assistance Program, and creates a pilot project of $5.5 million for five districts to build modular classrooms from cross-laminated timber.

Considered this year but failing to secure more than an hour-long public hearing were HB 1941 and HCR 4210, bills that would have sought changes to the requirement for a 60 percent vote to pass bonds. HB 1941 would have lowered the threshold to a simple majority for November general election bond campaigns, while keeping the higher threshold for bond campaigns at other times of the year. HCR 4210 would have put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to enact the new threshold. A coalition has emerged around the legislation and the issue is expected to be back in the 2017 session.

A bipartisan House Capital Budget Committee drafted HB 2968, a bill that would have directed one-half of one percent of funds sent to the emergency reserves fund to support grants to fund additional capacity for smaller K-3 class sizes and the expansion of all-day kindergarten, each biennium through 2025. The Senate majority was opposed to dipping into emergency reserves for anything other than last summer’s forest fires, and the bill failed to get a vote by the House. 

However, to track the progress of the K-3 grant program and review data on school construction costs with the intention of forming a Joint Legislative Task Force on School Construction in 2017, the supplemental capital budget includes Section 6018. The new section requires a technical work group to compile key elements and identify issues for the Legislature to consider to improve how state assistance is provided to school districts to design, build, and maintain public schools. An initial report is due January 15, 2017.

Increased Access to Higher Education
Several bills were introduced during the 2016 session that supported making higher education more affordable and accessible to Washington students and their families. One bill would have made it “free to finish” college if an individual was within 15 credits of graduation and had been out of school for three years. Another bill would have made community college free to eligible students.

In the end, lawmakers invested an additional $8 million to maintain the tuition reductions enacted in the 2015 session and $18 million for the State Need Grant. Policies adopted include SSB 6354, which will start the process of figuring out how to “reverse transfer” academic credits from four-year institutions to community and technical colleges, and E2SSB 6601, which creates a new college savings plan.

Breakfast After the Bell
Even with enormous stakeholder and legislator support, E3SHB 1295, the Breakfast after the Bell bill, failed to gain traction in the Senate again this session. A compromise bill, HB 3009, was introduced on March 24th and would have clarified that time spent in a classroom offering a morning meal could count as instructional time as long as instruction was taking place at the same time as the meal. There was no mention of breakfast, no mandates on districts, and no funding required. Unfortunately, the compromise came too late in the process and lawmakers failed to act on it when they returned to business on March 29th

WSPTA Platform Issues
The following bills have been signed by Governor Jay Inslee:
  • HB 1345 would require the development of a consistent definition for professional learning.
  • 2SHB 1408 would direct the Office of the Education Ombuds and Education Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee to develop a consistent definition and framework of responsibilities for family engagement coordinators.
  • 4SHB 1541 would implement many 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 That Has Been Signed Into Law
  • 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. 
  • E2SSB6455 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.  
Failure to Pass This Session
SB 6408, a bill that would have created a professional track for paraeducators, failed to pass the House budget committee. However, $1.75 million was included in the supplemental budget for professional development during the 2016-17 school year. Look for supporters to resume advocacy this interim and next session. 

Marie Sullivan
WSPTA Legislative Consultant