Seattle Education

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The Republicans plus Rodney Tom wreak havoc on the Washington State budget and hurt children the most

Senator Rodney Tom is pushing  for charter school franchises  to be established  in the Central District and yet he wants to cut the budget that would assist the children who he purports to want to “help” in this same community as well as make major cuts to education funding. Kelly Munn with the League of Education Voters (LEV) seems to be a major cheerleader for his cause.

Ironically, Tom and LEV both pushed for a teacher evaluation bill which will cost approximately $5.9M. This bill ties teacher evaluations to student test scores. So take away support for students and teachers and then evaluate teachers by their student’s performance on standardized tests. Just exactly where is the logic in that?

To follow is a newsletter from Senator Allen Kline who represents the 37th District, where the Central District is located. This newsletter describes in detail what Democratic Senator Rodney Tom of Bellevue and his Republican friends want to do with our state budget and how it would affect those in need, particularly residents in the Central District. The bold print that describes the cuts to the children and their families who need it the most and cuts to education in bold are mine.

First a video that was issued last week when the Republicans plus Senator Tom basically did a hostile takeover of the state budget.

Dora

And now the newsletter that was issued on Thursday, March 8th by Senator Adam Kline:

Special Session, the current budget terrain, and deciphering the Republican’s claims about their budget proposal

Today is the last day of our regular 60-day legislative session. The length of our regular legislative session is constitutionally mandated, so we have no choice but to end at the close of the 60th day. We’ve been involved in intensive negotiations regarding the supplemental operating budget for the current two-year biennium which ends on June 30, 2013. It became apparent a few days ago that we are not going to be able to come to an agreement.

Soon after the close of the regular session, Governor Gregoire will call the legislature back for a special legislative session. Under state law, a special session can last no more than 30 days but can be adjourned as quickly as the legislature completes its remaining business. If we’re able to reach an agreement regarding the budget, we may be able to come back very soon for less than a week. However, things are very much up in the air at the moment.

The primary focus of special session will be passage of the operating budget, and those bills which are necessary to implement the budget. We may also work on a small number of bills that failed to win passage through both chambers during the regular session, but we don’t want to do anything that detracts from our main focus.

The Current Budget Terrain

As you probably know, the House released their proposed supplementary operating budget a few weeks ago, and the Senate released our proposal last week. Both the House and Senate budget proposals were the culmination of many months of public hearings and an array of other types of discussions. For example, the Senate had extensive hearings on the Governor’s proposed budget during the special legislative session that began in November. Information garnered from the public from those hearings contributed to the Senate budget proposal. Legislators, staff, and members of the public contributed an immense amount of work to craft a practical budget that made cuts, but that mitigated them with revenues from sources other than taxes. Polls performed over the past months made it abundantly clear that the public, measured statewide, still isn’t ready to vote Yes on a referendum creating any combination of new taxes. Both proposals closed a few tax loopholes, including one that had allowed big banks to be exempt from paying taxes on certain interest income.

The House and Senate budget proposals were available to the public online, paper copies were distributed, and many of us had posted info about them on our blogs and in our e-newsletters. The proposal had been openly shared with the minority party, inviting them to contribute. Like many legislators, I’ve responded to hundreds of emails and phone calls about the Senate and House proposals, and have discussed their contents with constituents, advocates, lobbyists and representatives from state agencies and nonprofit organizations and lobbyists. Both had public hearings in their respective Ways and Means Committees. Interestingly, only a few Republican members bothered to sit in on the public hearing, and they stayed only briefly. The budget was met with accolades and relief in the public hearing. It was a budget that left large portions of the safety net intact. It was a budget that made absolutely no cuts to K-12 and higher education, and maintained a $370 million reserve balance.

The House passed their proposed budget, HB 2127, with a vote of 53 to 45 on February 29. Like many legislators, I’ve responded to hundreds of emails and phone calls about the Senate and House proposals, and have discussed their contents with constituents, advocates, lobbyists and representatives from state agencies and nonprofit organizations and lobbyists.

Our plan was to have a floor vote on our budget proposal on Saturday, March 3, thus giving legislators another opportunity to continue to amend it –including those legislators who opted instead to stage a parliamentary coup on the Senate floor. As I described on my blog that night, the Republicans and three Democrats joined together to pass a budget that no other legislator or member of the public had ever seen. The rest of us Democrats made many attempts to improve it via amendments on the floor, but were prevented from doing so by the newly-formed majority.

This comprehensive comparison between the Senate Democrats’ budget proposal and that of the Republican caucus lays out the differences between the original Senate proposal and the one passed in the wee hours of the morning Saturday. Nonpartisan information on the various budgets proposed in the Senate can be found here.

Among many other things, the Republicans and their Democrat friends are proposing to cut a host of safety-net programs, including completely eliminating the Disability Lifeline, a program that was maintained at the current level in the Senate Democrat proposal. They would cut $202 million from public assistance for families with children and limit the lifetime benefit for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to 48 months across a lifetime. It keeps eligibility for Working Connections Child Care restricted to families whose incomes total 175 percent or less of the federal poverty line. It also cuts 4000 Working Connection Child Care slots.  In contrast, the Senate Democrat proposal not only retained current funding for TANF but undoes last year’s 15 percent cut to TANF benefits.  It would restore eligibility for the Working Connections Childcare (WCCC) subsidy to families whose income totals 200 percent or less of the federal poverty line.

“Gimmicks,” our future potential revenue deficit, and the Republican’s so-called “commitment” to fund education

I’ve been surprised at some of the claims made by the Republicans and the three conservative Democrats who supported the Republican budget, in particular their comments concerning “gimmicks,” our future potential revenue deficit, and their alleged commitment to fund education.

Gimmicks. There seems to be a constant chorus of Republicans stating that their budget included no “gimmicks.” Here, they are indulging in the practice of using a “gimmick” to describe budget strategies that one doesn’t like. Our state is experiencing a major revenue deficit; of course we have to create strategies to move funds around or postpone payments in order to make it through this difficult time. The Republicans were particularly upset about the Democrat proposal to make one $330 million payment to schools a day late in order to count the payment in next year’s budget rather than this year’s. This payment is the monthly payment that the state makes to schools. In our budget, we propose to make the payment currently due on June 30 a day later on July 1. Our budget also proposes to make this one-day change permanent, meaning that we won’t have to make a double payment at some point in order catch up. The schools agreed that this was a workable plan, especially because it enabled us to continue funding a whole host of critical and cost-effective human and health services. This is similar to a family deciding to pay their rent a day late in order to cover the costs of a family member’s emergency healthcare needs.

Although they say their budget includes no “gimmicks” they actually use several similar budget strategies. The budget proposed by Republicans relies on “pension reform” that postpones a $133-million scheduled payment into state pension plans. Unlike our proposed “gimmick,” this one could have many bad consequences. Republicans also rely on a $67 million diversion of hazardous substance taxes into the general fund, most of which is a one-time cash grab. This will negatively impact cleanup activities statewide, costing many jobs and hurting our environment.

Future revenue deficit. Interestingly, the three Democrats who are now voting with the Republicans on the budget claim in a recent op-ed piece that the Senate Democrats were “banking on a ‘get-out-of-town’ budget that would have left us with upward of $2 billion in additional cuts to make next January.” This is a good sound byte – too bad it’s not true.

For one thing, no one can accurately predict what’s going to happen economically in the next several months. There are too many unknowns. Prognosticators have made general estimates that our state would have a $2 billion revenue deficit next year if we continued with our current expenditure commitments, and if the economy continues a fitful recovery. However, the Senate Democrat proposal addresses about $1.3 billion of this possible deficit. First, our budget proposes to make a $330 million payment to schools a day late in order to count the payment in next year’s budget rather than this year’s. As I mention above, we also make this one-day change permanent, meaning that we won’t have to make a double payment at some point in order catch up. When the Republicans make their $2 billion estimate, they seem to be assuming that we would have to make a double payment next year. We won’t, so we can subtract about $300 million from the R’s $2 billion estimate.

Second, the Senate proposal permanently suspends the statute created via Initiative 728, regarding class sizes. This removes $1 billion worth of our current expenditure commitments. We are determined to fulfill the spirit of I-728, and the Supreme Court has mandated that the legislature do a much better job at funding basic education. As I discuss below, our proposal made no cuts to K-12 education and sets us up to more adequately fund schools when our state’s economy recovers.

So, it would be more accurate to say that the Senate Democrat budget would leave us with upward of a $700 million gap between revenue and expenditure commitments, as opposed to the $2 billion that supporters of the Republican budget are saying is inevitable. In addition, I don’t think that the $2 billion figure takes into consideration the $370 million that Senate Democrats committed to leave in a rainy day fund – but frankly, I don’t know how they’re calculating their figures.

Republicans and their alleged love for education. It has been clear to many of us that our state has woefully underfunded education for decades. Teachers, school staff, students and parents have made it abundantly clear that we need to do a better job. According to the US Census, our state ranks about 32nd of all states in per-student funding for education. This is harmful and shameful. Our state constitution makes it clear that education is the state’s “paramount duty.” A recent State Supreme Court decision affirmed this fact, and has mandated that the state step up to our responsibility. By not making any further cuts to K-12 education, the Senate Democrat Budget proposal made a move in that direction.

The Republicans and three Democrats who proposed their budget in the dark of the night called their budget the “Fund Education First” budget. They’ve made multiple statements to the press about how education needs to be our first funding priority.

In spite of all this concern about education, the Republican budget cuts $43.9 million from K-12 education and cuts $30.4 million from colleges and universities. Here’s some examples of their proposed cuts:

  •   Eliminate $28 million for smaller class sizes in high-poverty elementary schools;
  •  Almost eliminate the Readiness to Learn program with a $3.235 million cut. This program provides substantial support to students (predominantly pre-school through grade 8) and their families who are significantly at risk by rigorously combining school and community-based resources to reduce barriers to learning, bolster student engagement and ensure that all children are able to attend school ready to learn. RTL is a great program that has proven its success over and over again.
  •  Cut $950,000 from the Washington Reading Corps, which provides tutoring to improve reading abilities of K-6 students across Washington State, and has created effective collaborations among schools, families, community members, National Service, businesses and state partners.
  • Cut $8 million from the Running Start Program, which allows 11th and 12th grade students to earn both high school and college credits through courses at community and technical colleges, and many of its 4-year baccalaureate institutions without paying tuition. The program provides nearly $50 million in annual savings to Washington families through extremely low tuition rates and saves the state $46 million per year.
  •  A $30 million reduction in state financial aid for low-income college students.
  •  Cutting $25.67 million dollars in funding for Washington’s Community and Technical College System.
  •  Making a $12.643 million cut to funding for universities.

Along with cutting funds used for education in K-12 schools, the Republican budget included a $3.3 million reduction to Medicaid programs serving children with disabilities in schools. This is funding for children with severe, special medical needs, including wheel chair assistance and tube feedings. Not providing adequate funding to treat these children is simply not an option, and would create yet another unfunded mandate to our schools.

This doesn’t sound like a “Fund Education First” budget to me.

What’s next? We’re currently working furiously to finish the business we need to complete before the end of the regular session, including passing a supplemental transportation budget. We’re working on concurrences on bills that passed the Senate but were changed by the House before passage. (If a bill passed the Senate but then was amended by the House, the Senate has to decide whether it will concur in the amendments or not.) We’re meeting in our respective caucuses. We’re attempting to pass the supplemental transportation and capital budgets. Senate and House Democrat as well as Republican leadership are negotiating between themselves and with Governor Gregoire regarding the operating budget. I’m involved with several other senators in a Progressive Caucus; we’re discussing the budget proposals with each other, and we met yesterday with Senator Ed Murray (the chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee) and Senator Lisa Brown (the Senate Democrat Majority Leader) to transmit our input on the budget negotiations.

This morning, the House Democrats proposed a “striking amendment” that they may use to amend the budget sent over to them by the Senate. (A “striking amendment” is one that strikes and replaces an entire bill.) As of this writing, I don’t know whether or not they are going to do so. You can read about their proposal here.

When session ends tonight, I may get to go home to lovely Seattle – but not for long. Stay tuned to find out when we’ll be back for a special session.

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