Washington State Enacts Reforms During Recession

Last Updated: July 18, 2009

This article appeared in the July 2009 Rural Policy Matters.

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Washington State has enacted a major education system reform while at the same time cutting almost $1 billion in funding for the upcoming fiscal year. House Bill 2261, signed into law by Governor Christine Gregoire this spring, redefines the “basic” education required by the state constitution for the first time in 30 years.
The new law increases the number of credits needed for high school graduation, phases in full-day kindergarten, increases the number of professional developments days for teachers, and requires changes to the school funding formula. Reforms will begin in 2011 and will be fully implemented by 2018.
Gregoire vetoed the bill’s provisions for early learning opportunities for at-risk children and a gifted education safety net but promised to work on funding those areas in the future.
A Working Group made up school financial managers, representatives of various education groups, and other individuals with expertise in education finance will work out the details of how the new funding formulas will be developed and implemented.
House Bill 2261 was influenced by two separate legislative proposals — one based on the recommendations of the Legislature’s Basic Education Finance Joint Task Force and the other encompassing a plan developed by the Full Funding Coalition, which is made up of the state’s largest education organizations.
Although the new law is viewed as significant progress toward education reform in the state, many advocates have expressed disappointment in the lack of detail about how the bill’s requirements will be funded by state revenues.
Notably, three school funding lawsuits are pending in the state. An equity case related to the formula for funding teaching, administrative, and classified staff was brought by Federal Way, one of the largest districts in the state. Another lawsuit was brought by the School Districts’ Alliance for Adequate Funding of Special Education. The third is an adequacy lawsuit brought by the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools, which is made up of community organizations, school districts, and education associations.
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