This week Governor Christine Gregoire unveiled a budget proposal that was the equivalent of giving state educators a lump of coal for Christmas.
The latest cuts come less than a week after state lawmakers approved $240 million in cuts to K-12 funding. That's nearly a quarter-billion dollars and comes just a little more than nine months after the state was found guilty of not providing Washington children with even a basic education.
State Superintendent Randy Dorn says the past week has been the worst for students in Washington State in the past 30 years. Not only do the cuts mean education can't move forward, it nearly forces the system to start over.
Under the Governor's proposed budget, essential programs - involving the achievement gap, college readiness and dropout prevention - are being eliminated. Class size reductions in K-4 classrooms - gone. Dorn estimates up to 1,500 teachers could lose their jobs under this budget.
In Marysville, they're already getting the pink slips ready. Board members in that district will be meeting on Monday, December 20th, to talk about how they're going to respond to a mid-year cut that will leave them more than $1.5 million in the hole. Marysville Superintendent Dr. Larry Nyland says, "We are looking at all possible mid-year cuts. Reserves, unspent budgets, vacant positions, textbooks, training, maintenance and even mid-year layoffs or reductions in sports seasons are all being reviewed. We have also invited staff and labor leaders to explore with us all possible solutions that would help us sustain learning and programs."
The Governor's budget also eliminates funding for levy equalization to qualified districts (translation - filling in the gap between poorer districts and those with money) that is actually paid for out of federal education dollars. Number crunchers say it will save $18 million - but what will it cost in the long run? Places like Kent and Aberdeen that have high percentages of low-income families will be hit disproportionately hard.
Jonathan Kozol, author of the book "Savage Inequalities," calls decisions like these "compulsory inequities" - when governments require children who can't afford to go to private schools to attend public schools under mandatory attendance laws, then underfund education.
Someone called the station after the Governor's announcement and asked how she can take federal education dollars and use them to balance the state budget. The explanation I got was interesting to say the least. According to the state budget office, the federal money IS being deposited into the education "account." The $208 million the state is taking is DIFFERENT money from that same account.
State Representative Mike Hope (R-Lake Stevens), who is also a Seattle police officer, calls it "theft of payment." Regardless, the federal Department of Education says they will be monitoring Washington's use of education monies for irregularities.