A month ago, the Sun Herald published an excellent editorial arguing the Legislature should not rush into revising the state’s school-funding formula. It suggested waiting until the summer or the 2018 session to consider any change to the formula. Today, that proposal makes even more sense.
At first, the legislative leadership intended to push dummy bills through the House and Senate, leaving all real decisions to be made by six legislators at the end of the session. Fortunately, most legislators resisted that idea. Now the scheme is to have a “special session within the session” after the speaker and the lieutenant governor decide on their proposal.
Since the “dummy bill’ scheme failed, there hasn’t been any public discussion of the proposed new formula.
In fact, this entire process has taken place in secret, and that’s just wrong. For the past five years, there hasn’t been a single meeting of the House or Senate education committees to discuss any problem with the existing formula. An organization called EdBuild was hired — and given a secret contract. Representatives of EdBuild have appeared in public for only a few hours to discuss their recommendations.
EdBuild proposes to reduce the amount of money the Legislature is required to spend on public schools. It says that will “take the pressure off the Legislature.” Why would we want to do that?
EdBuild proposes we change our system, which is based on a per-student formula, to one that weighs funding more heavily toward certain students. What real difference would this make? No one knows, because there hasn’t been a direct comparison showing how the same dollar amount would be distributed among the districts based on the labeling scheme. The weights assigned to each student seem arbitrary.
Meanwhile, the entire system of funding special-education students needs to be studied. That alone would take months. However, the EdBuild proposal would simply assign weights to special-education students, again an apparently arbitrary decision that would dramatically underfund the needs of the most critical students.
Various legislators say there will be a plan that doesn’t follow all of the EdBuild proposals, but they won’t make their plan public.
I’m sure the existing system can be improved. (It was created by humans, who tend to be imperfect.) But the proposed changes should be discussed at length, in public, with time for alternatives to be considered, and with time for everyone across the state to study the various proposals.
If they’re not up to something, why do they have to do all this in secret?
Sen. Hob Bryan is a Democrat state senator from the 7th District.