Week One of Special Session Ends, Four to Go?
Thousands of protesters greeted legislators when they convened Monday, Nov. 28 for the start of a 30-day special session called by Gov. Chris Gregoire to fix a projected $2 billion budget problem for the biennium ending June 2013.
Protesters disrupted hearings the first two days, bringing a strong Washington State Patrol presence to the Capitol campus (resulting in a handful of arrests) that remained throughout the week. As hearings continued over the days, the crowds dwindled but still packed the hearing rooms to voice concerns about program cuts or to express support for new revenue, or sometimes both.
School directors Paul Wagemann (Clover Park), WSSDA past-president Deborah Heart (Goldendale), WSSDA vice president Mari Taylor (Lake Stevens), and WSSDA staff testified before House and Senate budget committees on WSSDA priorities and the impact of the Governor’s proposed supplemental budget on school districts.
Heart and Wagemann specifically raised concerns about the restructuring and loss of Local Effort Assistance (LEA) funds to districts and asked legislators to keep this flexible funding source intact. Wagemann provided examples of how LEA has been used to help increase the districts graduation rates and how the loss of funding would jeopardize innovative approaches to helping all students achieve success.
Their voices were joined by other education advocates who took varying positions on cutting days, LEA, specific programs, and revenue options. SPI Randy Dorn took a stance against any cuts to basic education and LEA, and urged legislators to continue funding dropout prevention programs that help keep kids in school.
LEA, days and funding focus of work sessions next week
School directors may want to clear some time next Wednesday to participate in a committee meeting Dec. 7 at 10 a.m. in Hearing Room A. That’s when the House Ways & Means has scheduled a public hearing to discuss a Governor-request bill to reduce school days and make changes to LEA funding.
Note: A bill number is not available at the time of this report, but we understand that cutting school days and LEA will be in one bill. We will post the link to the bill when it is available.
The public hearing will be followed by a work session on reducing the number of school days and making changes to LEA/levy equalization.
Also on the schedule is a discussion of a proposal being floated by committee chair Ross Hunter, D-Medina, to create a long-term education funding strategy through changes to the state’s collection of property taxes. The school property tax proposal can be found at the following link: http://leg.wa.gov/House/Committees/WAYS/Documents/2011/H-3045.2.pdf.
Hunter described his proposal at the WSSDA Annual Conference in Bellevue last month. A review of this information and his blog post explains the thinking behind the bill. In addition, links to the data tables can be found in annual conference handouts 2 and 3 in session 35 or on Hunter’s web site.
In addition, the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education committee will hold a work session Dec. 8 at 10 a.m. on recommendations from the Levy and LEA Technical Working Group that wrapped up deliberations last June.
The group had been tasked under ESHB 2261 (Chapter 548, Laws of 2009) and SHB 2776, section 6 (Chapter 236, Laws of 2010) to develop options for a new system of K-12 supplemental funding through local levies and LEA, and to recommend a phase-in plan to ensure no district receives less funding when a new system is implemented.
After more than a year of discussion, the group reaffirmed its support for LEA as a necessary tax equity program and for a minimum of 50 percent levy equalization funding. In addition, the group considered but rejected a sliding scale or “tiered” approach that would have established a different formula for LEA funding based on the level of tax rates.
The full report was issued in July 2011. It includes data comparing school districts and the impact of the different options considered on the districts. The report, executive summary, meeting minutes, and other related documents can be found here. (Levy equalization options start on page 98 of the report.)
The committee also will get a briefing the same day from Leslie Goldstein, the governor’s policy advisor for higher education, on the Higher Education Steering Committee recommendations. Two committees received the same report this week, which recommends creating an Office of Student Achievement, a 13-member advisory board, and a joint legislative-select committee on educational attainment.
Under the proposal, the State Board of Education and the Higher Education Coordinating Board (HEC Board) would be merged, and the Office of Student Financial Assistance and the Educational Research and Data Center would be part of the new Office of Student Achievement.
Goldstein told committee members that she hoped the final report would be released next week, with a bill possibly in the following week of the special session. The report was called for by ESSB 5182, which passed last session and eliminated the HEC Board effective July 1, 2012.
Virginia: Is there a budget in sight?
While both the House and Senate budget committees are holding public hearings and work sessions on the Governor’s supplemental budget proposal and starting to hear “Necessary to Implement the Budget” – NTIB – bills, the real question is whether lawmakers can come to some agreement on the details and send a new spending plan to the Governor before the end of the month.
Given the challenges they had this week in approving a bill to help the city of Wenatchee and the area’s public facilities district avoid defaulting on a $42 million bond, it’s hard to see how they will reach consensus on which funding cuts to adopt. But never say never.
Committee chairs and members have shared their priorities with budget negotiators, and some lines are being drawn about what will be acceptable in an all-cuts budget.
In the House, most policy committee work has been suspended, and members are expected to take up HB 2145, the “Wenatchee” bill, on Monday for floor action. The rest of the week appears reserved for the House Ways & Means Committee, which has shifted its meeting times to 10 a.m. Tuesday through Thursday.
In the Senate, policy committees such as the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee and the Higher Education & Workforce Development Committee will continue to hold work sessions on topics that are budget-related. And the Senate Ways & Means Committee will continue to take public comment on the budget by topical area.
New faces, new digs
Three former House members have joined the Senate since the end of last session, including Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, who is now serving as the vice chair of the Senate EL & K-12 committee. Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett, remains on the committee but is taking a more active role as majority whip and vice chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, replaced Sen. Scott White who died unexpectedly in October. Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, won a Nov. 8 special election to fill the seat that came open earlier this year when Sen. Bob McCaslin resigned for health reasons. Both Frockt and Padden have been appointed to the Senate Ways & Means Committee.
In addition, Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Kitsap County, who replaced Rolfes in the House, has scored a seat on the House Education Appropriations & Oversight Committee.
With renovation work on the John L. O’Brien Building almost completed, House members began moving into their new offices at the end of the week. Please check the House roster for the most up-to-date office information.