There seems to be a dispute over how much school funding is being cut during the next biennium. Some are making the ridiculous claim that school funding will not be cut at all. At the heart of this dispute is the proper way to measure a budget cut. Below are a couple of different views. The first is from Ramona Hattendorf, Government Relations Director, Washington State PTA. The second is from a person who claims that cuts will not be that great. I will then explain why - when you include cuts in federal stimulus funding and school repair and construction funding, the actual budget cut is closer to $4 billion.
PTA says the Budget Cut for the next Biennium will be $2 billion
I had a question as to whether $2 billion in cuts was actually being proposed for K-12. Answer: YES. According to the LEAP* documents:
* Senate cuts to K-12 education are $1.8 billion ($1,808,094,000)
* House cuts to K-12 education are $1.6 billion ($1,579,720,000)
These figures count as "savings" the plan to shift June payments to school districts into the next fiscal year (which was factored in as a "savings" of $240,000,000). If you don't consider shifting the payments a "savings" then spending reductions for K-12 education increases to:
* $2 billion (Senate)
* $1.8 billion (House)
Source: Legislative Evaluation and Accountability Program*
(Go to Appendix C, Page 1 - it gives you a Senate vs House comparison report. )
What is included:
These figures include provisions headlined under "K-12 Education" in Appendix C, page 1, as well as the K-12-related costs under "Employee compensation," also in Appendix C, page 1. (FYI: Most education employees are not state employees; they are school district employees. Their contracts are negotiated locally, BUT the state allots money for their salaries. Many districts supplement those salary allotments.)
"K-12 employee compensation" line items are:
* Suspension of K12 Cost of Living/I-732;
* 3% salary reduction for K-12 employees - Senate only (state would cut allotment to districts; districts have to negotiate reduction locally)
* K12 freeze steps - House only ("steps" refers to step increases that staff get for years of employment and extra college credits/advanced degrees)
* Suspend I-728 for $860,716,000 in savings (This was the Student Achievement Fund; money could be used for class-size reduction, extended learning, professional development; pre-K for high-need kids; facility improvements related to class-size reduction)
* Eliminate K-4 class-size reduction for $212,312,000 in savings
* Suspension of COLA for K-12 staff for $289,950,000 in savings (K-12 staff lost this several years ago; state employees are also now losing it)
FYI on budgets
When drafting budgets, first you extend the cost of maintaining existing services. Then you factor in costs of new services. Then you make necessary cuts or additions, as the money flow allows. Costs go up every year: As more students join the system, and more classes and programs are launched, staffing levels increase and salary costs go up. If you have cost of living or other pay raises, they add to the budget. Ditto pensions. About 75 to 80 percent of school funding goes to compensation.
FYI: The Senate added $120 million in new K12 spending, but then made many more reductions. Ditto the House, though they only added $74 million in new K12 spending before making reductions. The Senate cut a lot more from compensation.
More than $1 billion of the proposed cuts were also cut earlier; the proposed budget continues several years of reductions -- which actually highlights the plight of K-12 education. A common refrain this session was "K-12 needs to take its share of the cuts." It took more than its share in the last biennium and in the supplemental budgets, and because of the sustained funding cuts, many school districts are now in precarious position. Counselors, librarians and classified staff were early hits, now more classroom positions are being cut and programs are being eliminated.
The cuts are now flirting with "basic education" - a legally protected area of the budget. Basic education includes the definition of 180 days, and if the state opts for school furlough days it could be in violation of the Basic Education Act. Basic education also includes general apportionment for salaries. But regardless of the legalities, the reality is our schools are having to accomplish the same task with a LOT less money. It affects services, class offerings, remedial programs and our ability to pay and retain staff.
Something to consider
Below, are figures Janet Suppes forwarded (Janet is a longtime advocate from Bellevue). She looked at payments distributed to school districts. It is interesting to review how much actually goes to districts, and then in turn to school sites. How money is divvied up, and how much of it directly supports kids, will likely be a hot topic for a few years.
Government Relations Coordinator
Washington State PTA
Here is a second point of view claiming that budget cuts will not be that great:
Sent: Tuesday, May 17, 2011 11:21 PM
To: Legislative Talk
Subject: Re: [legislative] Take action: What are we doing to kids?
If I look at state apportionment, the actual amount of money that gets distributed to the school districts to their general fund, over the last four years, based on OSPI reports:
Senate plan: 2011-11: $4,619,000,000 1.7% decrease from 2010-11 budget, but an increase over the 2007-08 education budget. The general agreement is that the Senate version is the worst case scenario, and most likely to be compromised to something less.
If you check out the OSPI numbers, which are what schools actually receive from the state, you find that total state spending on K-12 last year came to $6.6 billion, if you include all programs, including transportation and non-basic education programs. OSPI calculates the worst case budget cut of the Senate plan is $169 million, best case is the House budget, which cuts $44 million.
Maybe the problem is that the budget was increased in an unsustainable manner in the last three years. Whatever, I don't see a $1.8 billion cut. It isn't great that we are treading water from 2007-08, but at least we aren't losing ground.
Oh, that $240 million shift of the June payroll to July? It is a gimmick that will impose some real borrowing costs on districts without healthy fund balances (savings accounts). But don't fear, the districts will get their money, just one day late.
Why the actual school funding cut will approach $4 billion
Sadly, both Ramona and Janet are overlooking several school funding factor which will have a direct effect on our children. First, neither considered the loss of $2 billion in federal stimulus funding which went to our schools during the past couple of years and will end on June 30th. This alone will lead to cutting thousands of teachers.
Second, neither considered the dramatic increase in health care costs over the past few years – which mean that for the same amount of dollars we will have 5% to 10% fewer teachers. Dollars do not teach our children, teachers do. And teachers like all the rest of us require health care now and then. Until we can find a way to control health care costs, our schools and our children and our State budget will suffer. Health care is not an optional cost.
Third, neither considered the cost of school construction and repair. Schools are not merely teachers, but also safe and healthy classrooms. The crisis in school construction and repair funding has been even worse than the cuts in operating funding. We currently have $1 billion in school bonds going down to defeat every year. Several independent studies have concluded that the school construction and repair backlog is rising at about $1 billion per year. For the biennium, that is a $2 billion cut which is borne by our children in the form of 10% of our State’s children going to school in particle board boxes (the national average is only 6%). Even worse, the Washington State Department of Health has estimated that 30% of our schools our children attend suffer from mold, unsafe drinking water and a pile of other health related dangers. School construction and repair are not optional costs. They are an essential part of providing our children with a Basic Education.
Fourth, Janet is incredibly naïve to think that the $240 million cut to the June Basic Education payment will be coming back in July. She clearly has not looked at the House Budget for the next biennium. How they restore the $240 million cut (which will actually be a $400 million cut) is by making even more cuts to additional programs. So that money is going away and not coming back. This is because the budget shortfall for the next biennium is even worse than the budget shortfall for the current biennium.
Finally, both Ramona and Janet are assuming Legislators are using accurate revenue numbers for the next biennium. Sadly, they are not. The Revenue is falsely projected to grow at a rate of 14% in the next two years. More likely, it will only grow at a rate of 2%. When this next “budget shortfall” occurs, there will be another $1 to $2 billion in cuts to our schools in the next two years.
Janice and Ramona need to do more research. Both have dramatically understated the financial problems our schools and our children will be facing in the next two years.
Regards, David Spring M. Ed.