Seattle-area education officials question adequacy, equity of state’s new school-funding plan

It’s been more than 36 days since the Washington Legislature crammed through a sweeping overhaul of public education. And school districts still don’t have a firm grasp on who wins and loses in that deal.

It took the Washington Legislature less than 36 hours in late June to unveil and approve a sweeping overhaul of public education as part of a last-minute budget deal to avert a government shutdown.

It’s taken much more than 36 hours — 36 days, in fact, as of Friday — for local school-district officials to figure out how that budget will affect their districts. And they’re still not clear on just how beneficial the changes will be.

“They think they did this really hard, really wonderful thing,” said JoLynn Berge, assistant superintendent for business and finance with Seattle Public Schools, the state’s largest school district.

“I’m not saying it wasn’t hard. I’m just not convinced that it was that wonderful.”

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On Monday, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction released projections of how the Legislature’s education budget will affect the bottom lines for each of the state’s 295 school districts over the next four years.

The estimates paint a rosy picture, with hefty boosts for virtually all districts. But Berge and some of her counterparts in neighboring districts believe that 30,000-foot view masks some important problems and questions.

They worry, for example, about putting property-poor districts at a handicap in how much they can raise from local taxpayers. Many don’t think the new budget covers all their basic education costs, as lawmakers say it does.

They also worry that voters will not support local levies at all, as lawmakers declare they’ve fully funded the state’s public schools.

“Generally, the thinking is that they (lawmakers) made some progress,” said Brianne King, executive director with the Washington Association of School Business Officials.

“But I think … there’s still a lot of work to be done,” she said. “I hear from people all over that are saying, ‘It (public education) is fully funded.’ Well, no, it’s not. We need to really…

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