Washblog

Some Implications of Cutting Education Funding in Washington State

I am a teacher who could lose his job in the current round of state budget cuts to education. I teach struggling readers, and I-728 money has, in the past, partially funded my job. I suppose that some people will automatically dismiss what I write here because my job is on the line. However, I have as much right to my perspective as anyone, and I might even offer some insight that one whose job isn't on the line lacks. Nevertheless, to keep from alienating potential readers, I will be as factual as I can be. In the process, I want to present some data--data I don't see anyone discussing anywhere--that I think will shed some light on the possible implications of cutting education funding in Washington State.

According to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction website, Initiative 728 is a voter-approved initiative that was intended to provide "funding to implement education reform and improved student learning." Initiative 728 money is commonly thought to have the purpose of reducing class sizes. However, I-728 is intended for much more than that. The six allowable uses of the funds are to:

  • Reduce class sizes in grades K-4;
  • Make selected class size reductions in grades 5-12;
  • Provide extended learning for students in K-12;
  • Provide additional professional development for educators;
  • Provide early assistance for children who need pre-kindergarten support;
  • Provide improvements or additions to school facilities which are directly related to class size reductions and extended learning opportunities.

The funding sources have been:

  • State property tax
  • State lottery until 2004-2005 school year
  • Emergency Reserve Fund spill over

The funding history of I-728 is complicated, but one thing that stands out is the one of the funding sources in the original provisions for I-728 no longer exists. According to Funding Washington Schools, since 2005 funds from the state lottery have been directed instead to the Education Construction Account (ECA). One of the questions I've pondered is whether directing state lottery funds back to I-728 is a viable option for preserving some of the services the initiative has funded in the past. In the meantime, I want to consider the current budget picture and what impact the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act might have on it.

The Seattle P-I has reported that the current budget deficit for the biennium has widened to $8.3 billion. Governor Gregoire, in her original budget proposal, proposed a 21% cut in the $732.9 million Student Achievement Fund (SAF) that funds I-728 outlays to the school districts. Since the governor's proposal, the revenue picture has worsened considerably. Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, has raised the idea of a tax referendum to salvage specific programs, including those funded by I-728:

Prentice said the Democratic governor, who has pledged not to increase taxes, doesn't like that idea, but the Legislature could put a tax referendum on the statewide ballot via a majority vote in both the House and Senate, without Gregoire's signature.

Such programs left to the voters' discretion could include recent expansions of children's and maternal health care and kindergarten offerings and some financing for colleges and technical schools, Prentice said.

Another potential entry for that list could be the money that goes to reducing K-12 class sizes under Initiative 728. That effort was approved by voters in a 2000 referendum, but no specific financing source was established for it. The Legislature can undo initiatives once two years have passed after their approval.

At this point, the obvious question is: won't the Obama stimulus package, or the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, fix everything? Why do we need new revenue? Sen. Prentice's response is that

the federal economic stimulus plan signed Tuesday by President Barack Obama will provide some relief, but it won't bail out the state budget.

"I was hopeful, sort of, that the stimulus might help us," she said. "We still haven't had a complete analysis of it, but apparently there are enough strings attached that it's not going to be enough."

State and federal budget matters are arcane, to say the least. However, I don't think we average citizens should be deterred from examining the numbers ourselves and trying to make sense of them.

The Congressional Research Service has broken down what the possible outlays of grant money will be to the states and school districts. The best overview I could find of what the State of Washington will receive in education is contained in this chart. Here is a summary of what Washington could receive in 2009:

  • $133 million in Title I-A grants to school districts.
  • $45.6 million in Title I-A school improvement.
  • $8.6 million in Title II-D education technology.
  • $1.7 million in assistance for homeless students.
  • $221.4 and $7 million to support students with disabilities.
  • $1 billion in general stabilization funds.

The purpose of the stabilization funds, as explained here, is basically to prevent teachers from getting laid off. But State Superintendent Randy Dorn recently predicted the state could lay off as many  2,000 to 3,000 teachers and an equal number of support personnel in the next two years. One billion dollars would be plenty to save I-728's $732.9 million Student Achievement Fund (SAF) if it weren't for the massive $8.3 billion shortfall we're now facing. It's possible that these grants might help prevent layoffs in Title-1 elementary schools, but there is nothing here that would offset cuts in I-728 funding of "extended learning for students" in high school. The states are supposed to provide "assurances" that they will use these grants to fund education at least at 2006 levels, but there is no mechanism, so far as I know, to enforce this "unfunded mandate"

The chairwoman of the state Senate education committee, Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, has indicated that she understands that deep cuts in I-728 money could result in eliminating classes that help students catch up academically and pass the 10th grade WASL. Indeed, this is already under consideration in the Seattle School District. Passing scores on the Reading and Writing WASL are a graduation requirement in this state. Students can take 10th grade WASL exams in subsequent years, but students cannot receive a high school diploma unless they pass the exams by the time they leave school.

The loss of academic support classes will affect some student populations more than others. I will concentrate on reading because that is the subject I understand the most. According to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction website, here is selected breakdown by group of students who didn't pass the 10th grade Reading WASL:

  • All = 21.3%
  • Male = 24.2%
  • Female = 17.9%
  • American Indian = 35.6%
  • Asian = 15.4%
  • Pacific Islander = 32.7%
  • Black = 34.9%
  • Hispanic = 35.3%
  • White = 16.9%
  • Limited English = 61.4%
  • Migrant = 43.8%
  • Low Income = 32.8%

There are any number of things that one could say about these data, but I will simply point out that the single largest percentage is associated with students who have limited English proficiency--generally speaking, students who are recent immigrants. In Seattle Public Schools, immigrant students have been one of the prime beneficiaries of the academic support classes partially funded by I-728.

The percentage of these students in Seattle Public Schools varies from year to year, but according to the 2008 district profile, the percentage of students with limited English proficiency at all schools is 12.3%. At the high school level, it is 10.8%. One of the questions I've been pondering is what happens to Seattle Public Schools stated strategic goals if its academic support classes for high school students disappear. For example, in the 2006-2007 school year, 78% of students passed the 10th grade Reading WASL. The goal for the 2012-2013 school year is 95%. In Seattle Public Schools, the Reading WASL pass rate among students with limited English proficiency was 44.7% in 2006-2007. As impressive as these numbers are when you consider the challenges these students face, there is still room for improvement. No plan to reach a 95% pass rate for the Reading WASL is realistic if it doesn't foresee boosting the pass rate among students with limited English proficiency. If academic support classes for these students are dropped, how viable are the district's strategic reading goals?

As we all know by now, State Superintendent Randy Dorn is planning to replace the WASL with a different graduation exam equal in rigor. But my question is: how do we expect students with limited English proficiency to pass any reading graduation exam without academic support classes? These students may continue to receive instruction in English Language Development (ELD) classes. The academic support classes in reading were meant to give students extra instruction--something deemed vitally important when they're faced with passing the 10th grade Reading WASL before leaving high school. Among my largest concerns about the proposed cuts in I-728 funds is not only that the Reading WASL pass rate will go down, but also that the graduation rate will go down.

In Seattle Public Schools, the on-time graduation rate in the 2006-2007 school year was estimated at a dismal 62%. The five-year graduation rate was an equally dismal 66%. What would it say about us, the citizens of Washington State, if those graduation rates went down during the prolonged budget crisis we can expect over the next several years? What would be the societal cost of a new wave of young people who are frustrated in their efforts to graduate from high school? What would be the cost, to us and to them, of young people who despair of their own futures because they see no avenue for pursuing a college education in our state? Many of the young people in my classes took seriously Barack Obama's message of hope--what happens to their sense of hope if their ambitions are frustrated by budget cuts that affect their education but not the education of their more affluent peers?

After all, no one is talking about cutting advanced classes for the academically fortunate students in our schools. In fact, in Seattle Public Schools, quite the opposite is true: more advanced class are being offered than ever. This is a very good thing, in my view, and I welcome the opportunities that these classes open up for large numbers of our students. I just want everyone to have the chance to catch up academically and enjoy the intellectual development that students experience in advanced classes. But if some students are given the chance and others are not, then what kind of institutional humiliation are we imposing on an entire class of students and their families?

Do we really want to turn public education into a vehicle for preserving privilege? What are the consequences of an educational system that encourages those who are ahead to get more ahead and those who are behind to stay behind? Do we really not know where that leads? Have we learned nothing from our own history?

< We Want to Take You and We Will Nyah Nyah | Brian Baird Gaza visit >
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Not only do we not need a cut in education, but if anything we need a significant increase over past levels. Even if the education system is flawed, it is without doubt the best investment we can possibly make and we need to make more.

Increasing education spending solves a multitude of problems and cutting makes things far, far worse. It's common sense. Where is a better place for unemployed people who can't find jobs to be than in school? Where is a worse place for kids facing a tough job market to be than out of school? Could there possibly be a better time to educate people more than at the beginning of an economic crisis? Cutting education funding at a time like this is total insanity by every economic measure.

by dlaw on Sat Feb 21, 2009 at 03:24:09 PM PST

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  • And yet by DWE, 02/21/2009 03:40:47 PM PST (none / 0)
The Seattle Public Schools and the state are stuck looking at education as a near term investment of scarce resources. The long term consequences have been and are now severe. I'm really upset that people, used to behaving and responding in given ways, unsuccessful survivalist actions that create an incredible complex of crumb grasping, continue to use the same modus operandi. Witness the school and program closure process and the way they played the statistics. Past behavior is the predictor of future behavior. And, repeating failing action is guaranteed to create failure. It would almost be better if all funding mechanisms were thrown out and we started from scratch. To decide priorities and leverage resources. Instead we have this thing and that things and whoever has power or patronage gets the $$. Witness the gang initiative in Seattle. ALL lottery money should go to the schools and their 'profit' needs to be education of all the children. The pay off is graduation rates. I'd even be glad if combined high school diploma/community colleges or technical schools were an option for those too bored in regular high school.

by ktkeller on Sat Feb 21, 2009 at 03:56:03 PM PST

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all ESD's. This would save a ton of money and the functions of value could be picked up by the supers office and school districts. All of the tasks could be done for 30%-40% of the cost by existing personnel.

by Particle Man on Mon Feb 23, 2009 at 10:41:51 AM PST

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Everything is going from bad to worse...regarding taxes. Californians are lucky today the ballots were in and instead of everyone paying more taxes they are finally cutting some programs out. I will finally have more money saved up to spend on holiday insurance for me and my loved ones.

by Johnny5 on Wed May 20, 2009 at 09:47:17 PM PST

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Wonderful article,thanks for putting this together! "This is obviously one great post. Thanks for the valuable Website Optimalisatie information and insights you have so provided here. Keep it up!

by Johnny5 on Thu Nov 05, 2009 at 05:25:22 PM PST

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The war in iraq is a long way from being over, if you are holding your breath for this then you might as well move to canada

by Chezzer on Mon Mar 22, 2010 at 07:25:26 AM PST

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The degree program 642-437 braindumps into which she has invested two years of time and many thousands of dollars will no longer be offered, and she is so NS0-101 braindumps demoralized by the shock of this announcement that she wonders whether there is any reason even to continue attending her daily classes. MB6-871 braindumps

by jack11 on Thu Nov 13, 2014 at 01:21:45 AM PST

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