Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Although we still have more work to do before we adjourn sine die, the Legislature finally adopted a 2017-19 operating budget on Friday after 172 days of session. There are many things to like in the $43.7 billion budget, including the fact it's probably the most bipartisan spending plan I've had the opportunity to vote on during my time in the Legislature. However, I also have some concerns I'll share below.
First, the good. The budget makes historic investments and reforms in K-12 education, increasing spending by $7.3 billion over the next four years. For the first time since the early 1980s, more than 50 percent of the operating budget will be dedicated to K-12 education. By the end of the 2019-21 biennium, the Legislature will have increased K-12 education spending by a whopping $12 billion since the McCleary ruling came down in 2012 — an increase of 88 percent.
Other positive highlights of the budget include:
- Includes a number of tax preferences to stimulate the economy, including extending the preferential Boeing business and occupation tax rate for all manufacturing;
- Increases sales tax revenue to local governments from online sales tax, which also helps local brick and mortar stores effectively compete;
- Makes critical investments in our mental health system;
- Makes a number of improvements to our state's foster care system; and
- Assumes a 6 percent reduction in agency management staff to reduce middle management and constrain government costs.
Now, for the bad. The budget increases state spending by 13 percent in the 2017-19 biennium and another 14 percent in the 2019-21 biennium. If we have an economic downturn, spending will far outpace revenue, which could leave our state in a financial bind. I would have preferred to see more money left in our reserves to protect us against that possibility. Even so, I felt this was a strong, bipartisan operating budget and was glad to cast a 'yes' vote in favor of it. The governor signed the spending plan into law late Friday.
McCleary fix passes House
Earlier this session, I talked about the importance of coming up with a long-term solution to end the reliance of school districts on local levies to fund basic education. I'm happy to say we were able to do that this session. In addition to investing $7.3 billion more into K-12 education via the operating budget, the McCleary fix we passed in House Bill 2242 creates equity for students and teachers, promotes local control, and implements substantial reforms. The highlights:
- Increases state salary allocations by nearly $5.3 billion per biennium to equip all school districts with sufficient resources to recruit and retain high-quality staff;
- Increases starting teacher pay to a minimum of $40,000 per year;
- Replaces the current health benefit system, which unfairly punishes working families, with a modern system modeled after the state employee health benefit system; and
- Remedies our current regressive local levy system by capping local levy rates to provide tax relief to those in school districts where property valuations are on the lower end of the scale.
Due to current maintenance and operation levy rates remaining in effect through 2018, every district in the state will see increased property taxes before a new school levy cap is enacted in 2019. However, most of you will then see property tax reductions from 2019 to 2021, which was the deciding factor in my decision to vote in favor of the bill. While none of us like tax increases, the alternative to the plan laid out in the operating budget were progressive tax increases, such as a capital gains income tax and a carbon tax. Thankfully, we avoided both while fully funding basic education.
House approves my bill to change testing requirements for HS graduation
After months of negotiation between education leaders in the state House and Senate, a compromise bill that would change high school assessment and graduation requirements is finally moving forward. Last Tuesday, the House unanimously passed my bill, House Bill 2224, which would enable more students to graduate on time.
House Bill 2224 builds off my earlier House Bill 1046, which would have delinked all state tests from high school graduation requirements. HB 1046 was approved three times in the House earlier this year, but stalled in the Senate on each occasion. I knew we'd have to go back to the drawing board if we were going to get anything done this year. The bill we developed is a solid compromise I'm satisfied with.
While state tests would not be delinked from graduation under the new bill, math and English language arts assessments would be moved up from 11th to 10th grade beginning in 2019. This would provide students with more time to meet the standard necessary for graduation. Additionally, meeting standard on the state's biology assessment would be delayed as a graduation requirement until the class of 2021. That change would also apply retroactively to the class of 2017.
In addition to these changes, the bill would:
- Establish an expedited appeals process for students in the 2014-2018 graduating classes who have not met standard on the math and/or English language arts assessments;
- Discontinue the collection of evidence objective alternative assessment;
- Allow, beginning in the 2018-19 school year, qualifying students to meet the applicable state standard by: 1) taking and passing a locally determined course in the content area in which the student was not successful, and 2) completing a state-approved and locally administered assessment. Students would also have the opportunity to successfully complete a dual credit course in English language arts or math, which would qualify as an approved alternative assessment; and
- Require school districts to provide students who have not earned a certificate of academic achievement (CAA) before the beginning of the 11th grade the opportunity to access interventions and academic supports, courses, or both to enable students to meet minimum high school graduation standards.
The bottom line is it's our job to do what's in the best interest of our students. As I've said repeatedly, I strongly believe delinking state tests from high school graduation requirements is the right policy for our state. However, this bill will move us forward and help students who are graduating this year and in the years to come. That is what's needed at this moment.
House Bill 2224 was unanimously approved by the state Senate on Friday, and has since been sent to the governor to be signed into law.
As much as I enjoy long days and nights working at the Capitol, my favorite part of being a legislator is being back in district, working in our communities to help solve problems. Please continue contacting me with any questions, concerns or comments you have. Also, if you would like me to visit your community group, school or business, I am always available to do so. You can contact my legislative assistant, Pam Kentner, to make arrangements.
It is an honor to serve you in the state House. Have a safe and happy Independence Day!