Statement on McCleary order by State Board of Education Chair

State Board of Education Chair Isabel Muñoz-Colón issued the following statement on today’s order by the State Supreme Court in the McCleary case regarding Washington’s public school funding:

“I applaud the Supreme Court for continuing sanctions, and emphasizing the urgency of strengthened school funding.  The legal sanctions are meaningful, but the real urgency comes from a looming crisis: fewer and fewer of our best and brightest are choosing the teaching profession. Clearly, the state does not fund compensation or provide professional development at levels that will attract and retain the best educators for our next generation of students.”

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Board’s input for Education Funding Task Force

Responding to a request for input on implementing a program of basic education, the State Board of Education sent this letter to Legislature’s Education Funding Task Force :

September 8, 2016

Dear Members of the Education Funding Task Force:

We appreciate your request for input from stakeholder communities on how the Education Funding Task Force can utilize its platform to better our education system in Washington State.   Specifically, you ask for “a description of what you feel would define a successful Washington K-12 public school system.”

The State Board of Education has a unique role in this process.  By statute, the Board is charged with “advocacy and strategic oversight of public education,” as well as a responsibility to “promote achievement of the goals” of the program of basic education (RCW 28A.305.130).  We also have a unique responsibility in setting standards for high school graduation for individual students, and setting goals for our public education system on a range of student achievement indicators (RCW.28A.150.550).

Given our role, we are regularly confronted with the relationship between the standards set for our schools, and the resources deployed to help reach those standards.  Our collective view is that performance and funding are connected.  While minimum proficiency standards may not require difficult resource decisions, truly high college and career-ready standards for all students – such as those adopted by Washington – require commensurately high resources.

We believe that the role standards play in funding decisions is key to your work.  We understand that analyzing the accounting detail of how districts spend their local levy funding is potentially useful to policymakers.  We are concerned, however, that it becomes the basis for determining what ‘ample’ funding is.  It seems more desirable that “full funding” be based not simply on what was included in HB 2276, or what is currently expended out of excess levies, but rather on a specially designed basic education program that broadly fulfills the ambitious statutory goal of preparing all high school graduates “for success in postsecondary education, gainful employment, and citizenship.” (RCW 28A.230.090).  That is what we believe the Quality Education Council attempted to do, and what we ask you to consider as part of your recommendations going forward.

Despite our ambitious goals, it is worth noting that today approximately 3 out of every 10 low-income students do not graduate in 4 years, while only slightly more than half of limited English proficient students do so.  Without the needed resources, these gaps will persist and may even widen as we transition to a K-12 system that is fully aligned to college and career-ready standards.  While funding levels are certainly not the only reason for these unacceptable outcomes, we believe they are a meaningful contributing factor.  Accordingly, we would ask the Task Force to consider the following recommendations for inclusion in its final report.

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Smarter Balanced Participation goals

In its March meeting, the board voted to release a statement about the benefits of Smarter Balanced assessments. There are several good reasons for Washington students to take the Smarter Balanced Assessments.

On the assessments’ benefits, board chair Isabel Muñoz-Colón said, “Smarter Balanced assessments help Washington students in two ways. For students who are struggling, the assessment can be used by educators and other stakeholders to identify who needs help and target resources to those students and their families. Students achieving a level 3 or 4 on the assessment can be placed directly into credit-bearing courses at Washington colleges and universities. We now have a system where the pathway to college and career, though not perfect, is much clearer.”

For more information, read the board’s statement addressing participation rates for the Smarter Balanced Assessment and a set of goals about assessment participation and remediation rates (also below).

The 95-10 percent challenge.fw

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Community Outreach

Starting in March 2015, the SBE changed its approach to community meetings, opening the meetings to any member of the community with an interest in Washington’s education system. 217 people attended a community forum in 2015 – were you one of them? Register for the March 8 forum in Renton today!


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When the (School) Levy Breaks

‘When the Levee Breaks’ was a blues song recorded in 1929 by the colorfully named musical duo of Kansas Joe McCoy and Memphis Minnie. The song was about the catastrophic aftermath of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927.

Might Washington be singing a different blues tune here soon: When the School Levies Break? Our state’s overreliance on local voter-approved levies to fund our schools puts many districts on the brink every few years. A failed levy can lead to a flood of teachers and staff leaving a community that can no longer afford to pay what it bargained in compensation, and promised in basic education programs.

We’ve sung this song before. In 1975, Seattle school district experienced a double levy failure. As this Seattle Times article recounts, “Immediately after the vote, the district laid off almost everyone with less than nine years’ experience, a total of 2,400 employees, including 1,100 classroom teachers” before the Legislature stepped in.

After the passage of simple majority legislation, school levy failures are seemingly less common, but they do rear their ugly heads every so often. Tuesday’s voting results look generally good, but still, four districts appear at risk of failing their levies, and another 5 bond measures are also in peril.

At its heart, the McCleary court case is meant to address our overreliance on local school levies. This decision, and the earlier case law, requires the state to define a program of basic education, and fund it, with revenues sources that are “regular and dependable.” Local excess levies, the Court has ruled, don’t qualify.

The mere presence of local excess levies is not the problem in McCleary. The problem is that they currently fund things they legally cannot: services basic to achieving the state’s academic goals, not mere “extras”. This has presented an interesting problem for Legislative thought leaders: how do we define what basic education is, and also, what it is not. This is the conundrum that Senator Jim Hargrove described in a hearing last year, quite aptly, as the “golden tuba” effect; if salaries are to be included in basic education and the state is to assume full responsibility for them, what are local levies to pay for? Golden tubas for the band? And in that scenario, what becomes of local collective bargaining?

In the end, the Legislature’s path to compliance in the McCleary case will probably come down to at least two things: 1) the ability to commit additional, sizeable funding to basic education programs, to absorb at least that which local levies are currently subsidizing, and 2) the ability to demonstrate, through accounting or programmatic rules, how those programs or services paid for by levies are not part of the program of basic education. One is primarily a political challenge, the other primarily technical or legal.

The political battle over additional revenue for basic education receives a lot of attention. Superintendent Dorn’s advocacy has been well chronicled, as well as the state board of education’s position. The battle over what to exclude from basic education is more technical and less widely discussed, but still very important. Some key questions need to be confronted. Should professional development Learning Improvement Days (LID) be part of basic education? What about compensation currently paid out under the TRI statute, which authorizes additional pay for such hard-to-measure things as implementing “innovative activities” to “close achievement gaps”? Should compensation for time spent beyond the basic education school day be considered non-basic education? And by the way, what is the length of the basic education school day?

In the end, even the McCleary court had a difficult time ascertaining the degree of noncompliance; finally settling for the following statement: “the fact that local levy funds have been at least in part supporting the basic education program is inescapable.” But notice they didn’t say by how much. And that’s because nobody really knows.

Whle both McCleary bills introduced this legislative session have disappointed in their silence on the revenue question, despite mounting fines by the Court, the most recent version of Senate Bill 6195 does make movement on the question of what local levies could safely fund in the future. Senator Bruce Dammeier’s substitute version includes this key paragraph:

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Notice that both (A) and (C) rely upon a definition of a “state funded contract school day,” which we currently do not have established in statute. It is an intriguing concept, however, in that if districts are to pay salary beyond the state salary schedule, there would be an actual element of time added: extended day, summer school, extra professional development, or the like. Certain stakeholders will welcome this clarity. Others will not.

Certainly none of us want a return to major levy failures, like that experienced by Seattle in 1975. But policymakers may differ on what should be protected in the event that levies do fail. From the State Board’s point of view, the definition of basic education salaries should be pretty expansive; it should include a program of state-funded professional development, and the vast majority of salary paid to staff now.

Why? Because a student’s chance at a meaningful high school diploma should not hang in the balance as the last few levy votes are counted. State funds should guarantee that chance. No matter how cleverly the program of basic education is eventually defined, if a sizeable portion of a staff person’s annual salary (say, 20%) is tied to a successful levy, a failed levy means that most of those staff will leave for a neighboring community, or state, with greener pastures. Wouldn’t you?


An updated tracker of  the status of priority bills and several others the Board is monitoring is below.


If you have any questions about the State Board of Education’s legislative priorities, please contact Ben Rarick.

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