The first thing about that analysis that pleased me was that Hunter cited the National Education Association and Education Week data which ranks states on education funding. The Education Week data shows Washington as $2,600 per student below the national average in 2011-12 when adjusting for regional cost differences. In my experience such ranking comparisons are often discounted by legislators, but they strike me as a good reference point for gauging our state’s effort to support public education. Kudos to Hunter for starting with that frame of reference.
Hunter’s list of added education costs begins with the work of the Joint Task Force on Education Funding. Those estimates included additions for Full Day KG, K-3 Class Size, MSOC, plus added staffing for counselors, parent involvement, and transitional bilingual:
Let’s say that again – the McCleary investment gets Washington State to about the national average as of the 2013-14 school year. It’s not a crazy large increase, and people wonder why the court is so upset about where we are today.
Had Representative Hunter left his analysis there, it would have been as disappointing as most other legislative estimates of the cost to provide full funding as required by the McCleary decision. He goes on, however, to add $3.5 billion in the 2017-19 biennium, or $1.8 billion in FY 2019, to cover the labor costs currently funded from local levies. I am thankful that Hunter included these locally funded salary costs in his estimates because without addressing them, any proposed McCleary solution misses the mark defined by the State Supreme Court.
One of WASA’s concerns about I-1351 was the amount of local funding it would require for the added staff, at the very time the McCleary decision has suggested such personnel costs should no longer be funded locally. To his credit, Representative Hunter recognizes that need, stating:
This estimate does not include the local component of compensation, something that will need to have been solved by then, adding another 25% or so to the price tag.
Hunter goes on to point out that with the full cost of I-1351 added to the estimate,
Total expenditures per student would go up $2,500 to $3,000 per student per year, ranking #13 in absolute spending per student and lower in regional-cost-adjusted spending.
One piece of data not included in Ross Hunter’s analysis is worth adding here. According to the National Center of Education Statistics, in 1979-80 shortly after the Doran Decision, Washington State ranked 8th in the nation in per-pupil funding. All of the added investments outlined in Hunters plan wouldn’t even get us close to the relative position we were in when the Supreme Court first ruled that our education funding system wasn’t meeting the paramount duty of the State Constitution. No wonder the Court has become impatient with the Legislature’s progress.
So yes, there will be a high degree of difficulty in fixing the 35 years of cuts and neglect of our public schools for which our Legislature is responsible. Hopefully the new Legislature is up to the task. If not, we are likely to break more new ground with the Supreme Court clarifying what contempt of court sanctions look like.