Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Redinger joined her colleagues around the state Tuesday in urging state legislators to “maintain their commitment to K-12 funding” as they consider a special session to address the economic hit delivered by COVID-19.
No decision on a special session has been made, but a tipping point could come Wednesday, when the Washington Economic and Revenue Forecast Council will release its monthly report on the state economy.
The news is expected to be grim, and it could force a summer session that might lead to mid-year education cuts.
“That would be the biggest concern,” Redinger said.
In that sense, Tuesday’s letter was a pre-emptive move ahead of a possible special session.
“We anticipate some may consider cuts to funding for K-12 education,” said Joel Aune, WASA executive director.
“However, Washington schools and districts continue to have urgent and emerging needs that require assistance to ensure all students have equitable access to continuous learning opportunities and programming. Opening schools this fall, amidst unprecedented circumstances, will likely generate the need for even more funding,” he said.
Meanwhile, Spokane and 294 other districts are attempting to design budgets for next year. On top of uncertain funding, they face higher costs related to the coronavirus and how it may affect the education model.
At the same time, they hope to preserve funding for basic education, which accounts for less than 75% of a typical district budget.
“We never knew we would be in this situation a year ago” said Redinger, who only a few months ago was hopeful that the district could redress some of the losses from last year’s cuts.
“We’re still moving ahead with what we know,” Redinger said. “But we know that we’ve got to be investing a lot of resources on the reopening.”
On Wednesday night, Redinger and the board will hold another work session. The goal is to firm up priorities and guide Redinger as she prepares to submit a recommended budget on June 24.
After that, the district plans to engage with community staff, followed by presentations at community group board meetings and a draft budget by July 10.
However, that timetable could be upset by the Legislature.
In a worst-case scenario for schools, lawmakers would hold a special session in August and potentially force districts to start over again with scarcer resources.
For Spokane, a priority will be the preservation of Local Education Agency funding, which supplements districts with lower property values, and hence, lower tax bases.
Spokane is counting on $13.4 million in LEA funding next year.
The superintendents’ letter also urges giving districts more flexibility in use of funds, particularly from the Learning Assistance Program.
LAP offers supplemental services for K–12 students scoring below grade-level standard in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics, but Redinger contends that the funds come with too many restrictions.
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