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A Step Backwards: The Impact of Washington’s budget cuts on Education and Opportunity

Posted by kerym at Sep 07, 2010 02:10 PM |
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A number of decisions over the next several weeks will shape our state’s future.  First up are across the board budget cuts Gov. Gregoire is expected to announce next week. Then in November, voters will decide on a number of ballot measures that would further reduce state resources and force even deeper cuts.

It’s important to remember as we make these choices that additional cuts would come on top the $4.3 billion that’s already been slashed by the state over the last two years.

A post last week gave an overview of the damaging effects the cuts have already had on our state’s key priorities.

This week, we’ll dig deeper into each of those areas, beginning today with an examination of how the cuts thus far have impacted:

Education and opportunity

Let’s remember that broad access to education and opportunity is fundamental to the future of our state. Education opens doors to better job opportunities, higher wages, and greater job security. Success in today’s competitive, knowledge-based economy will require more than a basic education. Our children need schools that provide sophisticated, high-quality learning environments so they can graduate with the skills and knowledge to succeed in the global marketplace.

Goals for the state budget that will help us achieve education and opportunity include:

•    Investing in early learning;

•    Providing a high-quality education to all students;

•    Preparing all adults for meaningful careers; and

•    Cultivating opportunities for higher education.






 As shown in Figure 2A, the budgets for agencies focused on these goals account for just over half (51 percent) of the current NGF+FR budget.*  In total, the budget for these goals has been reduced by $2.2 billion (an 11.3 percent cut) in the current biennium (Figure 2B). These cuts will likely harm the quality of education for Washington’s students.

Invest in early learning

State investments in early learning have been reduced by $12 million (8.8 percent).  Aside from across-the board administrative cuts, reductions include those made to early learning apprenticeships, child care quality improvement specialists, and programs that provide support to parents, families, and caregivers.

Provide a high-quality education to all students

The NGF+FR* budget for K-12 education has been reduced by $1.6 billion (10.3 percent).

In 2000, voters passed Initiative 728, which established funding to help local school districts pay for specific quality improvements such as class size reduction, extended learning, early learning, and professional development. In the 2008-09 school year, schools were allocated about $458 per student for these efforts. In the 2009-10 school year, this amount was lowered to $131 per student before being zeroed out for 2010-11. In total, this means a reduction of $679 million.

Also in 2000, voters passed I-732, which provided a cost of living adjustment for education professionals. This spending has been eliminated for the current budget, a move that may diminish the state’s ability to attract and retain high quality educators. The total reduction equals $371 million.

While “basic education” funding is ostensibly protected by the state constitution, it was reduced by $375 million in the current biennium, primarily through pension rate adjustments.

A series of education reform efforts including programs to improve math and science learning, professional development, and others were suspended, eliminated or reduced, for a reduction of $98 million.

School districts with lower property wealth have a more difficult time raising sufficient school funding. A state program has been in place to equalize funding between rich and poor districts. Cuts in this area ($50 million) will have a disproportionate impact on those school districts least able to offset state cuts with local funding.

There were $11 million in other cuts in K-12 education.

Prepare all adults for meaningful careers and cultivate opportunities for higher education

The NGF+FR* budget for the state’s colleges and universities was cut by $588 million (15.2 percent). While cuts will be focused in non-instructional areas to the extent possible, there will be direct impacts on class sizes, course offerings, and student support services.

The cuts are partially offset by a $232 million increase in tuition, which is expected to increase tuition rates by 14 percent for four-year institutions and seven percent for community and technical colleges. An increase in financial aid funding was implemented to offset the increased tuition costs for lower income families.

$100 million in federal recovery funding was used to prevent even deeper reductions.

Even after these cuts, the lingering recession continues to jeopardize our investment in education. On top of the Governor’s across-the-board cuts, the passage of measures like I-1107 (which would repeal modest increases in non-essential items like candy, soda, bottled water and beer), or liquor privatization initiatives I-1100 and I-1105, would further imperil our state’s education system.

Further, I-1053 would allow a minority of legislators to cause gridlock and prevent our ability to take reasonable actions to educate our children.

Read the entire policy paper, "A Step Backward: The 2009-11 State Budget."

*This report focuses on the part of the state budget known as the “Near General Fund,” which in the current biennium includes the state General Fun and the Education Legacy Trust Fund. Also included is a newly created fund called the Washington Opportunity Pathways Account, which funds certain efforts in early learning and higher education. The combination of these funds is referred to here as the Near-General Fund plus Federal Recovery.


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