Funding drops for area schools

Ten of 15 districts in two counties receive less money than 2008-09 year

— Two-thirds of the school districts in Okanogan and Ferry counties are expecting a decline in per-student state funding this school year from years ago, despite the Legislature’s effort to begin complying with the McCleary decision.

A study by the Washington Association of School Administrators shows state-provided, per-student funding has gone down from the 2008-09 school year, compared to the estimated amount for the current year, in 10 of 15 districts in the two counties.

“This is after the $1 billion infusion by the state Legislature,” Okanogan district Superintendent Richard Johnson said.

The gap widens even more when 2008-09 figures are adjusted for inflation. The per-student allocations effectively declined in 13 of the districts when comparing the adjusted 2008-09 amounts to current-year figures.

For example, Bridgeport received $7,809.41 per student in state money five years ago. This year it expects to receive $7,178.30, a difference of $631.11.

The 2008-09 amount, adjusted for inflation, would be $7,831.52 – or $653.22 more that the district expects to receive this year.

In Nespelem, $9,436.90 per student in 2008-09 state funding dropped to $8,335.60 this year. Accounting for inflation, the 2008-09 figure translates to $10,433.12, or a decline of $2,097.52 from its expected 2013-14 allocation.

“Legislators provided an increase in basic education funding in the 2013-15 operating budget,” the association said. “They should be thanked for taking an initial step to complying with the Supreme Court’s orders in the McCleary decision.”

However, “the enhancement provided was not as significant a down payment as expected.”

Association Executive Director Bill Keim said, “We all knew that it wasn’t quite as positive as the $1 billion headline that legislators had been promoting, but we didn’t have a good way of quantifying our perceptions” prior to the study.

“We are thankful for the support we have received from our regional legislators for education,” Pateros Superintendent Lois Davies said.

On Jan. 5, 2012, the state Supreme Court ruled in McCleary v. Washington that the state is not amply funding basic education under the state Constitution.

According to the Constitution, it is “the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.”

The 2008-09 school year was chosen for comparison because that was the year before the kindergarten through 12th-grade budget experienced major funding cuts and the year before the McCleary decision was made, Keim said.

During that year, the state also adopted ESHB 2261 for basic education finance reform.

“The bottom line is that the $1 billion equals about $45 less per student statewide than we received in 2008-09,” Keim said. Adjusted for inflation, funding is $346 less per student statewide.

Pateros is one of those getting more this year than it did five years ago, but with inflation, “we are actually receiving $80,000 les in the state apportionment” funds, Davies said.

“The $1 billion in ‘new’ funding hasn’t begun to address the McCleary decision. It hasn’t even replaced the funding that has been lost since the court’s initial decision,” Keim said.

In the past few years, the Legislature has suspended voter-approved cost-of-living increases for teachers under Initiative 732, voter-approved student achievement money under Initiative 728 and additional funding to lower kindergarten to fourth-grade student-teacher ratios.

Republic Superintendent Kyle Rydell said the association’s report is a good source of data, and also shows the last year districts received I-728 funding was 2007.

I-728, I-732 and student-teacher ratio funds have not been reinstated, but this school year, as part of the $1 billion package, the state reinstated teacher pay cuts made as a budget-balancing measure.

The changes in state funding don’t make up for what was lost, superintendents said.

“The idea that the legislators provided a significant increase toward the McCleary commitment can only account for a partial restoration of what was cut — and covered by the federal (stimulus) funds,” Davis said. “We are looking forward to the next step in funding that will begin to help restore what is truly needed to run our schools.”

The report breaks down per-student state funding by category, from general apportionment and transportation, to vocational programs and learning assistance.

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