For the 2013-2015 biennium, lawmakers put together just under $1 billion in new spending, spread over key areas like expanding full-day kindergarten, transportation, books, supplies, bilingual education and reducing the size of elementary school classrooms. The revenue comes from a patchwork of sources including federal money, one-time adjustments to state accounts, and changes to some social services. It also continues the suspension of previously-passed voter initiatives that would have ensured cost-of-living adjustments for teachers.
That’s a beginning – but perhaps not a very promising one. Legislators must come up with $4 billion in new education spending by 2018. Lawmakers submitted their first plan to do that to the Supreme Court in September – but Chief Justice Barbara Madsen responded that it wasn’t specific enough. She noted, “…[it] must set out the State’s plan in sufficient detail to allow progress to be measured according to periodic benchmarks between now and 2018.”
The problem is that the state’s current mix of funding isn’t “regular and dependable”, as the court mandated. Mary Jean Ryan, acting chairwoman of the state Board of Education, summed it up this way: “It seems clear that something structural will need to happen before the Legislature can support a fully funded program of basic education and sustain it through good economic times and bad.”
By Elissa Goss, EOI intern