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State schools superintendent proposes new method to replace 30-year-old funding formula
Dozens turned out to hear Jennifer Priddy, the assistant superintendent of K-12 Fiscal Services and Policy for the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction talk at the Issaquah School District Administration Office on Thursday.
The presentation brought little good news.
“Revenue is growing more slowly then costs,” Priddy said. “The levy returns don’t grow fast enough. All of that goes in the wrong direction.”
Statewide, school budgets have increased $38 million this year. Utilities costs alone went up about $11 million — almost a third of the total increase amount.
And most districts do not have much of a cushion from year to year to fall back on.
“Schools are having to use more of their end balance,” Priddy said. “Twenty percent of students are in a district with very little ending fund balance.”
Some larger districts, Priddy said, have less than half a percent of their ending fund balance.
Mercer Island sets aside five percent each year.
During Priddy’s two decades in education, she said she has never had more than two districts at once in “binding conditions,” a situation where the state has to step in and monitor the budget of a school. This year, there are about half a dozen schools already in binding conditions and another half dozen on the watch list.
Priddy agrees with the view that many educators hold, that the state is underfunding basic education.
The problem stems from the fact that the state has not updated the definition of basic education in 30 years. Many things that are now considered a part of basic education are not in the definition and, therefore, are not funded. Districts, along with help from PTSAs, foundations and other groups, have to pick up all the slack, Priddy said.
State officials are working on a solution for improving education funding.
The OSPI proposal focuses on working a budget around staffing and getting the staff to student ratios as an actual representation of the classroom.
The current funding ratio funds one staff member for every 18.8 students in kindergarten through fourth grade, and one staff member for every 21.7 students in grades five through 12. But that is not the actual class ratio. This ratio counts not only teachers but also instructional coaches, nurses, counselors, librarians and all other support staff. That means that in most cases, the class sizes and class ratio of teacher to student is much larger.
The current ratio usually means that for grades kindergarten through five, the actual ratio of teacher to students is one for every 24.7 students, and for grades six through 12, it is 1:29. There is one instructional coach for every 1,250 students, one librarian for every 786 students, one counselor for every 462 students and one nurse for every 2,659 students, Priddy said.
Officials with OSPI hope to move the overall ratio down to one staff for every 15.89 students in kindergarten through fifth grades, and one staff for every 18.43 for 6-12. This would result in class sizes of 21.2 for K-5 and 25.5 for 6-12. Instructional coaches would be one for every 1,000 students, librarians one for every 500, guidance counselors one for every 403 and nurses would be one for every 750.
Educators at OSPI also recommend that the state define basic education as $1,101 per student rather than the current $468. This amount would fully fund operating costs that related to education, and includes $126 per student for curriculum to be adopted every six years.
OSPI is recommending that the state also pay for more of the classified staff. They also propose that the state equalize pay between districts. Also, the state needs to adopt a new salary schedule with higher lifetime earnings and increases for certification-based demonstration of excellence.
The list of needs goes on. It all means more money.
“The next few years are going to be very difficult for the state Legislature,” Priddy said.
Read State Superintendent Terry Bergeson’s full proposal at www.k12.wa.us/communications/basicEdFundingTaskForce.aspx.