The new reality of school funding

From right, Emily Grice of Eagle Harbor High School discusses the current situation for the Bainbridge Island School District with Sen. Christine Rolfes.   - Kipp Robertson / Herald
From right, Emily Grice of Eagle Harbor High School discusses the current situation for the Bainbridge Island School District with Sen. Christine Rolfes.
— image credit: Kipp Robertson / Herald

POULSBO — State Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-23rd District, knows funding for education in Washington is inadequate.

The state Constitution states that “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children,” but education funding falls short $7 billion to $10 billion per biennium budget to fully fund the new education reform laws passed in 2009.

“We are billions short,” Rolfes said, adding that “adequate funding” could be years away.

“I think we are looking at the new normal,” she said.

Rolfes and Reps. Sherry Appleton and Drew Hansen visited the North Kitsap School District Tuesday night. After a state funding presentation, the legislators took questions from a concerned audience.

Education received the highest funding for support and operation in the state in the 2009-11 budget, $13.2 billion according to state documents. Human services received $10.8 billion. Those two state-funded resources made up 78.7 percent of the state’s near-general fund, a statewide total of $30.5 billion.

Though education receives the biggest piece of the near-general fund pie, locally a $2.7 million revenue plunge in the North Kitsap School District forced the school board to adopt a $64 million budget for  the  2011-12  school  year, $2 million less than the 2009-10 budget.

The cuts were the result of reduced state funding and an unforeseen drop in student enrollment during the 2010-11 year. Another drop in enrollment is expected for the 2012-13 year.

The state cut $1.8 billion from K-12 education funding during the last budget adoption.

Funding cuts from the state may not be over. Legislative leaders and Gov. Chris Gregoire are scheduled to meet Nov. 28 in a special session to cut another $2 billion from the state’s budget. The $2 billion expected to be cut is due to more than a $1 billion gap in state revenues and expenses. However, education funding can only be cut so much; $12.8 billion is constitutionally protected, according  to Rolfes’ presentation.

Combined with a shrinking student population — the district receives $6,422 in state funding per student — becoming “adequately funded” may be years off, Rolfes said.

The North Kitsap School District receives the second-lowest amount of revenue from the state. Sequim receives the least, $6,170.

“The funding problem we saw at the beginning of the school year — too many kids per class, splitting classrooms — that funding problem isn’t going to go away for a couple of years,” Rolfes said.

As the new normal, Rolfes said school districts and the state need to learn how to work around less funding. The 2009-11 state’s near-general fund — a combination of the education legacy trust account and state general fund — also includes: higher education, $3 billion; other education, debt service, pensions, transportation and specie appropriations, $2.2 billion; general government, $8 million; and natural resources, $4 million.

Along with the near-general fund, school districts received total of about $6.5 million from the state in revenue for basic education — general apportionment, special education, transportation, LAP, bilingual education, education in juvenile detention. Other revenues include local taxes, $1.7 million; federal, $1.3 million; and other sources.

Revenue school districts receive from various sources is spent on everything from teachers to food services and transportation.

Included on the representatives’ list of ideas to increase revenue to school districts were allowing local levy increases, closing tax exemptions, reforming government and cutting spending.

Of the questions asked during the meeting, the possibility of shortening the school year is an option, Rolfes said.

On the list of “bad menu items,” Hansen said shortening the school year was the least troublesome.

“There’s no magical money fairy that will solve these problems,” he said.


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