-- James Lendall Basford
In the meantime, school leaders across the state and the nation are working with the resources at hand to strengthen safety for their students and staff. In Washington, an important part of those resources are the school security, health, and mental health staff that are part of the state allocation through the prototypical funding model. Unfortunately, much of the state funding for those functions is woefully inadequate. A deeper review of the state’s allocation model will highlight that concern.
Last year during the legislative debates that culminated in HB 2242, there was considerable criticism of the prototypical school funding model because of its perceived lack of transparency. The irony of that perspective is that it is the most transparent and research-based school funding model the state has ever implemented. The problem is that is has never been fully funded.
The prototypical model came out of the 2005 Washington Learns study implemented by Governor Gregoire. A major component of the study, was a set of research-based recommendations provided in 2006 by Picus and Odden who are national experts on school funding systems. They have named their approach the prototypical model because it’s based on all the supports needed in a typical elementary, middle and high school. Their approach is particularly well-suited in Washington where our State Supreme Court has twice ordered the State to fully fund the actual cost of educating all students.
The Washington Learns Final Report was issued in November of 2006. While they failed to agree on any specific funding model, in 2007 the Legislature followed up by creating the Joint Task Force on Basic Education Finance (JTFBEF) to continue that work. The recommendations provided in their 2009 Final Report largely followed the recommendations of Picus and Odden, including the use of the prototypical model. The work of the JTFBEF culminated in the passage of HB 2261 in 2009. The intent portion of the final bill report for that legislation included the following statement:
For practical and educational reasons, major changes in the program and funding cannot occur instantaneously. The Legislature intends to develop a realistic implementation strategy and establish a formal structure for monitoring the implementation of an evolving Program of Basic Education and the financing necessary to support it. The Legislature intends that the redefined Program of Basic Education and funding be fully implemented by 2018.
In other words, HB 2261 provided very little new funding. It merely restructured existing staffing allocations, moving from three staff funding categories (instructional, administrative, and classified), into the numerous categories set forth in the prototypical model. It also put in place several advisory committees to make recommendations intended to bring our school funding system in line with the stated intent by 2018. The Quality Education Council (QEC) was established in HB 2261 to make recommendations about the final 2018 values within the prototypical model. Those recommendations were provided to the Legislature in 2010, but the legislature still has not implemented many of the QEC proposals.
The values in Table 1 show these developments through the lens of the Counselor, Health and Social Services, and Student and Staff Security allocations. While this is a very small subset of the overall prototypical model, these are the type of staff who could make a positive impact on school safety.
It’s interesting to track the progression from the 2009 JTFBEF proposals to the 2017-18 allocation. The Counselor category is somewhat above the 2009 recommended value, but well below what the QEC's recommended 2018 levels. Funding within the Health and Social Services category is nowhere near either the 2009 JTFBEF or the 2010 QEC recommendations and it is totally inadequate. The Middle School allocation, for example would provide 48 minutes of nursing services per day for a school of 432 students. In light of this formula, it’s worth noting that the National Association of School Nurses recommends a minimum of one full-time nurse per 750 students, and up to one for every 125 students for student populations with complex healthcare needs.
In addition to being research-based, another advantage of the prototypical model is the transparency it provides in comparing state allocations to actual needs. Our State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) provides a good tool to track the state allocation as compared to how districts actually staff within each category. The 2015-16 Actuals columns in Table 1 are based on the most recent of those reports. In the Student and Staff Security category, the state funded 189 staff in that year while school districts funded an additional 372 at a local cost of nearly $18 million. The local investment in all three of these staffing categories was nearly $26 million. Overall, including all of the prototypical model staffing categories, in 2015-16 school districts funded nearly 7,700 staff above the state allocation at a cost of over $700 million.
Given the significant reduction in local levy funds that was part of HB 2242, district funding for all of these locally-funded positions is in jeopardy. And despite all of the headlines about billions of dollars in new funding provided by that legislation, nearly all of it was earmarked for other purposes. So, before our Legislature comes up with new ways of enhancing school security, perhaps they should consider keeping the commitments they made in 2009 to fully fund, at a minimum, the health and safety elements of the prototypical model.