Fail: Congress Working on Toxics Policy

With the exception of education policy, there’s probably no other issue where states’ rights are paramount than when it comes to the health of its residents. Congress is currently considering a bill that would have devastating consequences to public health in Washington state if they don’t make major changes to the proposal. The federal Chemicals in Commerce Act (CICA), currently being considered by the House Energy and Commerce Committee, is an attempt to update the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act. The 1976 act is in dire need of updating – something both parties agree on.

Unfortunately, the CICA not only falls well short of improving the current law, it will actually put communities at greater risk of exposure to toxic chemicals. It will impose weak chemical testing standards, create faulty cost/benefit methods, and prohibit states from adopting their own toxic chemical protections. Continue reading

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Other Opinions on Common Core Standards

It’s not just me disagreeing with the people who want to get rid of the Common Core State Standards, it’s a host of thoughtful people. My favorite so far is from David Brooks, the conservative columnist from the New York Times. (I know this is an oxymoron, but he’s more conservative than everyone else there.)

A Circus Descends on Common Core – David Brooks (New York Times)

Common Core Spawns Widespread Political Fights – Bill Barrow (AP)

The sense you get from reading these articles is that the noise is about the noise, not about the substance of the standards.

Guest: Why students need the new Common Core education standards –  Katie Brown, Washington State 2014 Teacher of the Year

The Seattle Times supports it as well: Engage in new Common Core education standards.

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Common Core Education Standards

This week I got a campaign questionnaire from a group I hadn’t heard of before about the common core standards and a few other educational issues, wanting my answers to a set of questions they posed.

The group is Washington State Against Common Core so you can probably predict the direction they would like the answers to go. In general it’s better if I don’t answer questionnaires where I categorically disagree with the entire premise of the group as it doesn’t improve world harmony. In this case I thought it would be useful to talk about this topic as it has kicked up some dust lately.

Here are the questions:

  1. Please state your position on Race to the Top reforms, including the Common Core Standards, student data collection, and high-stakes testing.
  1. Please explain your support of or opposition to charter schools as established in Washington state by I-1240.
  1. If elected, would you sponsor or support legislation to withdraw Washington state from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and repeal the Common Core State Standards?

Continue reading

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New Low-Income Healthcare Clinic in Bellevue!

New ICHS Clinic Under Construction

I went to the opening of the new ICHS clinic in Crossroads yesterday. It’s exciting to have this kind of facility here – one that is focused on serving our low-income population that have signed up in droves for healthcare under the Affordable Care Act. All these newly insured people have to have somewhere to go, and this kind of facility will deliver the kind of care that works – culturally and linguistically appropriate high-quality medical care. It’s on 140th just North of NE 8th in Bellevue near Crossroads.

Teresita Batayola, the CEO was just leaving after the ceremony to receive an award from the White House for her work doing outreach about healthcare to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders here in King County. This is pretty cool.

Teresita Batayola receives “Champion of Change” White House Award  Continue reading

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Superintendent Dorn to Policy Center: “You’re Wrong”

Stop Confusing “Education Reform” With “Funding Reform”

The Legislature defined basic education. The Court said, Fund it.

OLYMPIA (March 28, 2014) — Unfortunately, it is once again necessary to respond to Ms. Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center about the meaning of the Supreme Court’s McCleary v. State of Washington decision. Ms. Finne continues to say the Supreme Court has ordered the State to adopt education reforms and that the Court has not ordered the State to fund its program of education identified in ESHB 2261 and SHB 2776.

Funding Reform

Ms. Finne is wrong. Here is the order issued by the Court in January:

…it is hereby ordered: the State shall submit, no later than April 30, 2014 a complete plan for fully implementing its program of basic education for each school year between now and the 2017-18 school year. This plan must address each of the areas of K-12 education identified in ESHB 2261, as well as the implementation plan called for by SHB 2776, and must include a phase-in schedule for fully funding each of the components of basic education.

Continue reading

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Peter Callaghan: Education bill’s unheralded details will need attention | Peter Callaghan | The News Tribune

Peter Callaghan: Education bill’s unheralded details will need attention | Peter Callaghan | The News Tribune.

Peter does a good job here exposing some of the hard work remaining in figuring out school funding details for 2015. He drills into a number of key issues:

  • Local school levies being used for compensation. This is an unconstitutional shift of responsibility from the state to local taxpayers.
  • Weird levy caps that treat different districts differently.
  • Reliability issues with depending on local levies.
  • Complexity of the salary model the state uses.

I’m not sure I agree with some of his conclusions in the article, but he’s right about the list of issues to work out.

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Follow-up from Telephone Town Hall – Foster Care and 520 Bridge Schedule

Thanks for the 4000-5000 folks who listened to a segment of our telephone town hall last week. There were a lot of questions asked. If you have an extra hour and want to listen to the recording of the questions I answered here it is. I said I’d answer questions left on voicemail at the end, and we had the following two that we didn’t get to:

520 – When will Construction End? (Ever?)

According to the WSDOT website, the Eastside portion (405 to the lake in Medina) of the project will be finished in the summer of 2014. I think this means that “Cars will be able to drive on it, and most major construction will be done.” I expect there to be some finishing work afterwards, but the major construction should be finished.

Continue reading

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Sound Transit Eastlink Route Animation

EastlinkI attended a Bellevue Downtown Association meeting last week where the following animation was presented, along with a great talk on what the downtown Bellevue light rail staion will look like. The animation takes about 12 minutes, but really allows you to see where the train will go and how it will integrate into both Bellevue and Redmond.

Must-See TV!

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2014 Supplemental Budget

coinsThe House and Senate introduced budgets about two weeks ago that were similar in some ways, but radically different in others. We negotiated and came to a bipartisan solution that pleases no one except our families who get us back home again. The votes were lopsided in favor – 85-13 in the House and 48-1 in the Senate.

A budget must meet three constraints:

  1. It must balance in the current biennium.
  2. It must meet the “expenditure limit” introduced in initiative 601.
  3. It must show a positive balance in 2015-17 under the rules established in the 4-year balanced budget bill from several years ago.

Of these, the third constraint is the most difficult. The House and Senate had very different approaches to the problem.

The Senate proposed a number of spending cuts that create more capacity to spend in future years. Many of these made little sense to me. For example, in many agencies worker’s compensation rates changed. When the rate went down the Senate took the savings, but when the rate went up, they didn’t fund the increase. If a business did this they would be in court. When the agencies actually make the legally required payments they have to take cuts somewhere else. We are not excited about the $5m cuts in social services, and the level of cut that would be needed in higher education or corrections. If you are going to propose cutting something you should point at it and be honest about what gets cut.

The Senate also proposed about $83 million in new tax exemptions. These wouldn’t have started until next year, a common budget-writing strategy to hide the true cost of an item. They are paid for in the next biennium with a shift from a different account, resulting in cuts there. This would leave us with a long-term reduction of about $160 million per biennium and no revenue to pay for it. I do not think we should reduce taxes when we have the McCleary problem to deal with in the next biennium. (This is a vast understatement).

The House proposed closing some tax loopholes and extending a fee that is scheduled to sunset at the end of this biennium in order to fund the reinstatement of the Initiative 732 COLA for teachers and other school employees, plus an investment in improving the quality of our early learning system. The Senate didn’t like this. (Also an understatement).

Outside these fundamental differences:

  • Both chambers proposed increases in K-12 spending to comply with the McCleary decision. The Senate put in $38 million, the House $58 million. These are both very small increments in the overall solution.
  • Both budgets funded increases in mental health funding, a critical need in Washington. Again, the House proposal was a little larger than the Senate. The Seattle Times talks about the House proposal here. Another story on the underlying problem here.
  • Both budgets fund the “TR Settlement”, the result of a court case showing that we don’t provide adequate mental health care to children. This is about $8 million, and will grow to $35 million a year over the next five years.
  • Both the Senate and the House propose funding programs for our residents with developmental disabilities to try to reduce the “no state services” waitlist. We’re working through some technical issues about which bill will pass. Again, more reading on this topic here and here.

The biggest potential problem we face with this budget is responding to the Supreme Court on the McCleary decision. To try to clear up confusion about the “plan” for increasing education funding Rep. Pat Sullivan and I introduced HB 2792. The bill lays out the schedule for McCleary funding proposed by the Joint Task Force on Education Funding in 2012, a task force report the court has mentioned several times. As expected, the bill did not pass, but is a reasonable structure for next year.

The final budget drops all the tax increases, all the new tax loophole creation, the teacher COLA and the fee extension the House proposed.

Short sessions (every other year) are 60 days long and are designed to fix problems that have come up between the two longer sessions. This is the first time since the start of the great recession when we do not have major changes in the budget. I described the final product in the press as a “modest” budget. This is perhaps charitable. The final product includes:

  • $58 million investment in K12 books, supplies and technology, part of our McCleary obligation. (A small part.)
  • Significant steps on mental health beds in the community. The Senate didn’t pass the bill allowing families to provide input to the judge in commitment cases over concerns about how much it might cost, but we need the beds anyway.
  • 5000 new slots for services to our developmentally disabled community, taking a big bite out of the “no paid services” waitlist.

I’m OK with it, but it puts off big issues to next year.

The articles referenced above (and included below so those of you who read this in print can find the articles) all list parts of Washington’s budget that are inadequate. We’ve lost in court on children’s mental health, we are 49th in the country in community mental health beds, we are being required by the court to substantially increase funding for K-12, and our higher education system needs significant capacity increases to keep up with today’s economy. What’s up with all this? This didn’t used to be a problem. What happened?

We’ve turned into a low-tax state. A study from the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy talks about this, and is available here.  A short summary:

Recently released data from the Census Bureau confirms that overall Washington could be considered a “low tax state.” However, families living near or below the poverty line generally do not experience Washington as a low tax state — instead, they pay more than their fair share of state and local taxes.

I wrote about this in 2012 (here) and will try to post some more information about it in the next week or so.

Links

Ross’ blog post on Tax Incidence in Washington: http://www.rosshunter.info/2012/08/tax-incidence-in-washington/

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Lawmakers pass 24-credit HS diploma; NCLB waiver bill dies

Lawmakers pass 24-credit HS diploma; NCLB waiver bill dies.

Lawmakers pass 24-credit HS diploma; NCLB waiver bill dies

The first in a series of notes on this year’s session. I can no longer write a summary of what happens during the actual session, particularly in short sessions where the budget negotiations take until the last !@#$%^&* minute. (I will be less testy about this in a week or so.) I have been working on the 24-credit graduation requirement bill for many years. It’s the foundation of our restructuring of school finance in HB 2261 from 2009. I’m super-excited that we got it done. Over the next few years we will add more rigor to our curriculum, including additional lab science classes and enough mathematics that most kids will be set up for success in whatever they do next, be it a four-year college route or a more specialized program in one of our community colleges or trade schools.

I share the concerns of the Partnership for Learning here that schools in Washington will lose control over 20% of their “Title I” money from the federal government. Title I is a program that sends money to schools with a high concentration of kids from low-income families. This is around $40 million a year that won’t be available to districts if we do not get a waiver to the No Child Left Behind act, the modern incarnation of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, (ESEA) the federal legislation created in the 60s as part of the war on poverty and the civil rights era. Neither the Senate nor the House had the votes to advance the bill that fixed it. I would have voted yes in the House as I have said many times. Very frustrating.

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