Grim outlook for K-12 funding in 2010-11 and beyond

School funding statewide is in a “crisis,” and educators can expect continued financial challenges in the next several years as they work to balance budgets in the face of declining revenue.

Nearly 100 people, including educators from throughout Pierce County, PTA representatives, business leaders, community members, and state legislators gathered at Rogers High School September 23 to hear an update on education funding statewide.

“What we are experiencing in K-12 is definitely a crisis,” said guest speaker Jennifer Priddy, assistant superintendent of K-12 Fiscal Services and Policy with the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). “And I don’t use that word lightly.”

This is the second consecutive year that the Puyallup School District has invited Priddy to share information about the state revenue forecast during a school board study session. Her financial forecast coincides with the beginning of the school board’s budget planning for the 2010-11 school year.

Later this fall, Puyallup School District Deputy Superintendent Debra Aungst will give a budget presentation that will explain how Priddy’s state revenue forecast impacts this district’s budget.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, Sen. Jim Kastama, and Rep. Bruce Dammeier joined those in the audience for Priddy’s presentation and made some brief remarks.

Sen. Kastama said the Legislature made “some unbelievably difficult cuts this year” and added the public can expect there to be more reductions in the next two to three years. “Yes, there are going to be future cuts … we’re not out of the woods yet by any means.”

Rep. Dammeier also forecast a tough financial road ahead. Since the state passed its budget last April, revenue statewide is down and expenses are up, he said. “We’re in this for the long haul,” he said.

Priddy’s presentation, entitled “School Funding Crisis and Finance Reform Update,” painted a grim picture of K-12 funding for the next several years.

The Puyallup High graduate shared background on education funding formulas, illustrated the funding situation today, and reviewed legislation passed by lawmakers last spring that outlines promising improvements to education.

As she clicked through her slide show of charts and graphs, Priddy reiterated that the money the state gives school districts statewide for basic education does not come close to paying for essential education costs.

Instead, school districts are forced to use local voter-approved levy money to support basic expenses such as teacher and other staff salaries and benefits, as well as non-employee related costs such as textbooks, transportation, security, and utilities.

If, for example, a school district used only the money the state allots for basic education to purchase textbooks, she said it would have to wait 18 years until it could afford to replace textbooks and other curriculum with current materials. Using local levy money to help purchase new curriculum drops the replacement cycle to every eight years on average.

“In a nutshell, we have levies subsidizing what is really basic education,” Priddy said. “It is very troubling.”

On a positive note, she outlined improvements to education outlined in House Bill 2261, which lawmakers approved last spring. The legislation calls for a new finance structure for basic education; a new transportation funding formula; and the formation of a Quality Education Council.

Among other duties, the Quality Education Council is charged with developing a new funding formula for basic education to replace one that is three decades old. Rep. Dammeier, who lives in Puyallup and served on the Puyallup School Board from 2001 through January 2009, now serves on that Council.

Priddy cautioned, however, that the changes outlined in the legislation are not scheduled to be fully implemented until 2018, and they are dependent on there being funds available to pay for the improvements. There is no revenue source attached to the bill.

Dorn, the state’s newly elected superintendent of public instruction, illustrated other states, such as Wisconsin, Massachusetts, and Connecticut that have effective education funding formulas. He noted that in 1993 Washington was 23rd in the nation in per-pupil funding. Today, Washington state is 43rd in the nation in per-pupil funding.

Puyallup School District Superintendent Tony Apostle said Priddy’s presentation and the accompanying conversation among legislators and the community is only the beginning of dialogue about the financial forecast that will continue throughout the rest of this school year as the board prepares its 2010-11 spending plan.