Most legislators will be holding town hall meetings on Saturday, March 12. Please see the linked listing for a meeting in your area.
What issues should you comment on in these Town Hall meetings?
1. Express support for education funding in general. Revenue forecasts continue to be grim and wrenching cuts are likely for all basic education programs in the next biennial budget. The easy cuts (as bad as they have been) have already been made and only the tough ones remain.
2. Express support for continued state funding of Highly Capable Programs. Please do not compare them with any other programs as the purpose and funding sources of these other programs are very different from HCP. HCP is solely state and local funded which places it in a class of its own. It needs to stand on its own merits.
Some legislators say that since local districts spend up to $5 of their own money on gifted programs for each $1 received from the state, lack of state funding will not jeopardize their continued existence. This is not true, expect in a few exceptional districts. Why spend limited local dollars on a program the state is unwilling to fund.
Express a willingness to participate in the pain of budget cuts so long as they are proportional to the cuts other programs are taking.
3. Strongly support the legislature moving forward with full implementation of the education reforms of ESHB 2261 and SHB2776 as scheduled. Pending bill SB 5475 will delay implementation of all aspects of education reform to an uncertain future date. We need to keep faith with the intent and purpose of the reform legislation and move forward now.
If you have the opportunity to make only one brief statement, this is the most important one.
Why These Meetings are Important
The following quotes liberally from the Washington State School Director’s Association (WSSDA) Legislative Update for March 10.
As funny as it sounds, for the third day in a row WSSDA has heard from legislators that say they are getting more email and telephone calls on cougars, chicken eggs, and shark fins than cuts to K-12 education. One legislator said they used the folder system in their in-box, and that the chickens were leading. “My ‘eggs’ bucket has 34 messages. Education is pretty empty,” said the legislator.
And while legislators don’t decide how they will vote based on the number of emails they receive, they do keep track of what they are hearing from constituents and what is causing the most concern.
Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, had a similar message to education advocates at a meeting Tuesday this week. Talking about the House Ways & Means Committee budget hearing in January, Sullivan said human services advocates turned out page after page of witnesses for testimony while education – early learning, K-12 and higher education – had a total of six people.
As reported here previously, the state revenue forecast will be issued March 17. The House writes a budget first this year, which means a draft budget proposal from Chair Ross Hunter, D-Medina, will probably be released Monday, March 21. If traditional patterns hold, a public hearing may be scheduled for March 22 or 23 at 3:30 p.m., with executive session and amendments the day after the public hearing.
This schedule could change if the revenue forecast blows a significantly bigger hole in the projected $4.6 billion gap for the 2011-13 operating budget. Originally lawmakers were hearing an additional shortfall of $500 million; estimates are creeping up to the $2 billion mark. In that case, it is possible the draft budget release and hearings would be rolled back a week.
Regardless, this is the time to be contacting legislators about how the Governor’s proposed budget cuts will affect school district funding and how that impact will play out with staff, programs, and students.
Keep in mind, the Governor’s spending plan was the starting point. Most lawmakers have said funding for I-728 and I-732 is gone. And everything that isn’t in the basic education box is discretionary and subject to cuts. That includes local effort assistance, all-day kindergarten, highly capable students, bonuses for national board certified teachers, dropout prevention, and so on.