Dorn: Schools need $4.1 billion

budget: Money is in addition to what is already being spent through June 2015

Staff writerOctober 5, 2012 

Washington state schools chief Randy Dorn dropped a bit of a budget bombshell Thursday, saying that costs to adequately fund the state’s K-12 public schools will be around $4.1 billion more than is spent today.

State government is under the state Supreme Court’s order – and continuing, steady gaze – to identify a revenue stream adequate to fully, or amply, fund basic education. Gov. Chris Gregoire has said that raising at least $1 billion more would require new taxes. Both gubernatorial candidates say they can come up with the cash without new tax hikes, although both Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna do mention closing some tax breaks.

Dorn’s figure appears to go well beyond the scale of what has been embraced by Gregoire and the candidates so far. Gregoire’s budget office has put out a four-year outlook that appears to call for about $865 million in new spending to cover carry-forward costs, including funds to reverse one-time cuts to salaries and one-time reductions in allocations to schools for buses, bonuses for National Board-certified teachers, and cost-of-living raises of 2.1 percent and 2.0 percent in the next two years.

Dorn’s figures include about $1.3 billion in the next fiscal year ending June 2014 and $2.8 billion more in fiscal year 2015. About $3 billion is attributable to House Bill 2776, which lawmakers approved in 2010 to start phasing in improvements to the school system.

OSPI said that the rest is for the state to pick up all staffing costs.

Among the documents filed by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is one that lists these carry-forward costs.

About $1.4 billion of the total would apparently fall at the local level, although the court said K-12 funding is too reliant on local levies. McKenna along with House Ways and Means Chairman Ross Hunter and others have advocated for a state property tax that would replace or “swap” for much of the local taxes.

The state Office of Financial Management’s analysts are reviewing the request, which was submitted by Dorn just as all other agencies have done, OFM spokesman Ralph Thomas said. The governor’s office did not immediately comment on the request.

Gregoire’s spokesman Cory Curtis said Dorn’s request raises questions about where the added money could come from. He said Gregoire has assumed a $1 billion deficit in the 2013-15 budget and the need to find $1 billion more to answer the Supreme Court ruling in the McCleary case. Dorn’s request only underscores that.

“It’s a discussion of revenue or cuts. The money’s not coming from trees,’’ Curtis said. “The governor has obviously been trying to tee it up.

“But I don’t think that starts in earnest until the Legislature comes back in January. It’s such a tough discussion to have.’’

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