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5 for '15

The 2015–17 session begins on Monday, January 12 and will provide at least as much or more intrigue as any session in recent memory. A laser-like focus on funding education will keep schools in the spotlight all session long. Here are five key issues for principals to keep an eye on through session.

  1. McCleary Decision – The 2014 session was declared a “get ready year” before the Supreme Court’s decision hit in 2015. However, the budget challenge may be worse than it was a year ago. The Office of Fiscal Management (OFM) estimates about a $1 billion gap between projected revenue and spending needs. Governor Inslee has proposed an additional $1.3 billion for K–12 education, with $750 million for MSOC (materials, supplies, and operating costs) and $596 million for educator compensation. Reducing class sizes to 17 for kindergarten through third grade and implementing full-day kindergarten statewide in 2016–17 have general support in the House and Senate leadership too. Expect those four items to be funded at the end of the session. However, OSPI Superintendent Randy Dorn believes that $4.5 billion is the minimum level of new funding required under the McCleary decision. Professional development could also be a part of the package but doesn’t have the same level of support as the previously mentioned topics. Recent surveying by the The Elway Poll reports that an improving economic outlook and the Supreme Court mandate have moved education to the top of the list of issues voters expect the Legislature to focus on.

  2. I-1351 – Without either significant increases in funding (taxes) or cuts to other programs in state government, I–1351 will not be fully implemented this year. The Legislature doesn’t appear to have the will to raise taxes to fully fund the class size reduction initiative, nor does it appear to have the two-thirds majority to change or set aside the initiative aside. Governor Inslee did not fund the initiative in his proposed budget. One idea being discussed is to send it back to voters with a funding source attached.

  3. Balancing the Budget – The challenge the Legislature faces is explained by two recent articles. In an op-ed piece in the Seattle Times, AWSP Touch of Leadership recipient Senator Christine Rolfes (D-Bainbridge Island) explains the plan for funding “… will likely be varied and include using existing revenue, making further cuts, adding revenue and closing tax loopholes.” On the other hand, Senator Andy Hill (R-Kirkland) was quoted in the Spokesman Review and said, ”any claim the state budget faces a deficit is a myth because revenue will be about $3 billion higher for the next two-year budget cycle than the current one.” Both sides have not yet agreed on the need for additional revenue, so don’t be surprised if the 105-day session is followed by at least one special session to balance the budget.

  4. Tax Reform – Virtually all elected officials will say Washington state has an unfair, antiquated, and inefficient revenue and tax system. State revenue collections do not keep pace with the growth of of our economy and with increasing demands on services. They also place a disproportionately higher burden on low-and middle-income families. Representative Reuven Carlyle (D-Seattle), chair of the House Finance Committee, calls for a serious conversation about the “morally bankrupt tax system” and has proposed some changes that could be implemented sooner rather than later. They include: the B&O tax system, revamping business tax credits, exploring income or capital gains taxes, or looking at increasing property taxes. Again, the Elway Poll released this week found 71 percent favored a cap-and-trade tax plan putting a pollution fee on emitters of greenhouse gases linked to global warming; Inslee is proposing this to raise funds for K–12 schools and transportation projects. Another 77 percent favored a cigarette tax increase of 50 cents per pack. However, with the House majority being Democrats and the Senate controlled by Republicans, don’t expect any major changes during the 2015 session. For a more comprehensive review of the issue, John Stage has written a thoughtful article earlier this week.

  5. Delinking Testing from Graduation – OSPI will introduce legislation to eliminate the graduation requirements associated with the state assessment program. The saving of $29 million would be re-purposed to provide a comprehensive dropout prevention program. We’ve blogged about AWSP’s thoughts on delinking in a blog post titled, “To Link or Not To Link, That is the Question.” Several education associations, like WASA and WSSDA, are currently studying the topic and have members on both sides of the issue.