Five Things to Look For in the 2016 Session
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Posted by Jerry Bender
What’s Ahead in 2016?
Now that 363 bills have been signed into law after the 176 days of the one regular and three special sessions, what lies ahead for 2016? At least five topics will be in a part of the 2016 legislative session.
School Funding - Legislators failed to comply with the State Supreme Court’s order to adopt a plan showing how they will achieve full state funding of basic education by 2018. During the last two budgets, the Legislature has put about $2 billion more into schools. However, that is just the beginning of the State’s obligation. Virtually all principals derive some of their compensation from local levies (the State only pays about $58,000 of an administrator’s salary). The McCleary case determined the State must pay 100% of the compensation for basic education. To fund the prototypical school model, the total additional cost without local levies is over $3.5 billion per year.
While the political will was in place to raise taxes for a massive transportation package ($16 billion over 16 years), the same cannot be said about funding the “paramount duty” of the State, K–12 education. The 2015 Legislature did put more money into K–12 ($1.3 billion), but it made no progress on the structural issues of how to fix the local levy system and how to take responsibility for the entire cost of salaries. Lawmakers present their case to the Supreme Court on July 27. The Court will then decide whether to issue sanctions to go with last fall’s contempt order over the Legislature’s lack of progress toward answering the 2012 McCleary decision on public education funding. The great mystery is what the sanctions could be. In the meantime, there are rumblings of teacher strikes in the fall because I–1351 was delayed four years and the 4.8% raise provided for in the operating budget doesn’t close the gap of six years without a COLA.
Simple Majority on Bond Elections – Representative Mia Gregerson (D-Des Moines) introduced HB 1941 during the 2015 legislative session, which would allow the authorization of school district bonds at general elections by a simple majority vote. It had 42 Democrats and a single Republican as cosponsors, but did not pass out of the House Education Committee. Representative Gregerson is continuing to work the issue and hoping to build support in the Senate.
Initiative 1366 – Tim Eyman’s latest tax measure is I–1366, which would decrease the state sales tax from 6.5% to 5.5% unless the Legislature puts a constitutional amendment before voters that would require a two-thirds legislative majority to raise taxes. At its June 2015 meeting, the AWSP Board of Directors took a no position on I–1366. Read the proclamation approved by the Board. Regardless of what happens in the November election, taxes will continue to be a topic in 2016.
Assessments and Graduation Requirements – At the end of the 2015 session, the Legislature finally settled on not requiring the Biology End of Course (EOC) as a high school graduation requirement for the classes of 2015 and ’16. The class of 2017 and beyond still must meet the requirement. Senator Litzow (R-Mercer Island) has committed to review the issue between now and the beginning of the 2016 legislative session. Representative Chris Reykdahl (D-Olympia) was a champion on the issue and will continue to work it in the House of Representatives.
Social Emotional Learning – The 2015–17 operating budget includes one-time funding for OSPI to convene a work group to make recommendations on benchmarks for developmentally appropriate interpersonal and decision making for K–12. Social Emotional Learning (SEL) is touted as the intersection of education and mental health. Advocates believe that by teaching students to better cope with life stresses, children will have greater resiliency, mental well-being, and valuable skills for work and life. AWSP testified in support of SB 5688 which is the basis of the funding included in the operating budget. To see some Social Emotional Learning in action, see how Chelan High School implemented it in a class called Academic Success. The class has turned D and F kids into top students.
With the beginning of the 2015–16 school year just around the corner, now would be the right time to approach elected officials about coming to your building to see the good things you have planned for your students and staff and establish relationships with them. After all, the 2016 legislative session is just over five months away!