SPOKANE, Wash. — Washington state lawmakers responded to claims there is not enough money for basic education Friday.
School districts around Washington are expected to start slashing their budgets after a change in how basic education is funded through the state.
Spokane Public School leaders announced Thursday they will be cutting 325 staff positions.
In a press conference, the district said the new state funding model increased state funding, but included a cap on the revenue districts can generate through local levees. The district estimates losing $43 million dollars in local levee revenue over two years.
The layoffs did not go unnoticed to lawmakers in Olympia.
Representative and House Appropriations Committee Chair Timm Ormsby acknowledged the levy cap created issues for some districts.
“That disadvantaged several school districts. As a legislature we have to create a uniform policy that applies to them all," Ormsby said.
The levy cap comes as part of a compromise known as the ‘McCleary fix’ passed in 2017. Legislators agreed to increase state funding and put a limit on the amount of revenue districts can collect from local levees.
Representative and Education Committee Member Mike Volz said he voted against the ‘McCleary fix’ legislation.
“The system that resulted from those bills is fundamentally flawed – inadequate, overpriced, overly centralized, and inequitable,” Volz said. “A system in which Eastern Washington taxpayers pay $1.50 per thousand to generate roughly $1,000 per student while Seattle taxpayers pay less than a dollar per thousand to generate $2,500 per student.”
Senator Andy Billig said the Supreme Court ruled the state has met its Constitutional obligation to fully-fund basic education.
“Education funding has increased significantly over the past several years," Billig said.
He cited Spokane Public School's funding has been increased by $73 million over the past two years through combined state and levy funding, resulting in a 21 percent bump.
Volz said more money it being pumped into K-12 education than before the legislation was passed. He is, admittedly, perplexed by Spokane Public School officials saying they do not have enough funding.
“At the time the state made changes to the basic education funding model, lawmakers warned the extraordinary growth school districts would see in the 2018-19 school year was one-time, and would reduce and normalize in the following school year. We cautioned superintendents to not negotiate those extra funds away, as doing so would lead to future financial troubles. Yet that’s exactly what SPS did,” Volz said.
Last summer, Spokane Public Schools negotiated double-digit pay raises for employees.
Layoffs are a major concern for state lawmakers, but staffing decisions are out of their hands.
"I would say that the legislature does not make those types of funding decisions that are the prerogative of the school districts to bare those results and the consequences of the those decisions," Ormsby said.
What they can control moving forward is how the legislature will continue to fund basic education. Lawmakers are considering changes to the local levee cap.
And Billig said funding for special education will likely be included in the final budget.
“I support additional funding for school districts and hope we will be able to do so this year, but we are balancing the need for that funding with the impact of the tax raises that would be needed to pay for that additional funding,” Billig said.