Washington Policy Blog

Class size remains issue in Kent

September 3, 2009 in Blog

Just a few hours ago, a King County judge declared that the Kent teachers' strike is illegal under Washington law and that teachers must return to the classroom next week.  What happens next is anyone's guess. 

This issue of class sizes is very intriguing, especially since union leaders declare it is still an issue.  What actual class sizes are in Kent needs to be investigated. 

As laid out in my previous post, financial reporting forms filed by the Kent School District show that Kent employs 1238 elementary and secondary school teachers.  These forms show that Kent educates 25,499 students.  (This link takes you to the Kent Apportionment and F-195 Budget Overview reports, which provide these numbers. )

A simple long-division calculation, 25,499 divided by 1238, reveals that taxpayers are providing sufficient resources for Kent teachers to have class sizes of no more than 20-21 students.  

Other reporters are using the figure of 1700 for classroom teachers in Kent, which significantly overstates the number of classroom teachers, as that figure includes other non-classroom staff who must have a certificate to work, i.e. counselors, librarians, psychologists, and other such staff.  If all of these employees were reassigned to classroom duty, another simple long-division calculation, dividing 25,499 by 1700, reveals that Kent teachers could have class sizes of 15.   

If class sizes are unreasonably large, as contended by some Kent teachers, then they have a point, but it is not that taxpayers are failing to provide sufficient resources.  Taxpayers are providing ample resources to Washington's schools, but less than 59 cents of every dollar actually reaches the classroom. 

Unemployment claims still rising nationally

September 3, 2009 in Blog

In a topsy-turvy economy like this, it seems for every glimmer of hope there's an ugly reminder of our current status. While the summer unemployment rate stabilized (at least for the time being) at 9.4% nationally and 9.1% for our state, the Labor Department today released data showing that the number of people filing for unemployment benefits climbed over the past week. Analysts expected about 564,000 initial unemployment claims but 570,000 ended up doing so.

The good news for Washington state is that there were 1,100 fewer initial claims this week than the last one. 

Some interesting data also shows that productivity rose sharply during the second quarter, while labor costs fell. This is good because higher productivity and lower costs will help lead towards profit!
, which in turn leads to economic growth as businesses ramp back up.

Of course, let's hope this happens otherwise there won't be any way to pay for some of the federal government's audacious plans. As this article from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland points out, the federal budget deficit as a percentage of GDP is already at a 60+ year high, around 11.2%, and both the OMB and CBO expect it to remain at around 4% for the next decade.

What does all this data mean? We're certainly not anywhere to even being close to out of the woods.

No Strike provision of teachers' contract remains in effect in Kent

September 1, 2009 in Blog

It appears teachers in Kent believe the No Strike provision, Article III, Section 10, of their expiring contract no longer applies.  This is not the case.  Washington law says the old contract remains in effect until a new one is negotiated.

RCW 41.56.123 provides as follows:
After the termination date of a collective bargaining agreement, all of the terms and conditions specified in the collective bargaining agreement shall remain in effect until the effective date of a subsequent agreement, not to exceed one year from the termination date stated in the agreement.  Thereafter, the employer may unilaterally implment according to law.

State law says teacher strikes are illegal.  On top of that, union leaders in Kent went against thier own contract when they led members out on strike.

Senator challenges press on public records exemption

September 1, 2009 in Blog

Yesterday the state Sunshine Committee voted 8-1 to recommend the Legislature repeal its exemption to the public records act for legislative records. State legislators are currently the only officials in the state with this exemption. The lone no vote was Sen. Adam Kline, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Reporting on the vote Crosscut notes:

In this state, the 2007 Legislature passed a law that shields
journalists from having to reveal their sources in court. Kline was
prime sponsor of that shield-law Senate bill. Representative Lynn
Kessler, another Sunshine Committee member, was prime sponsor of the
identical House version, which became law.

Kline says he asked journalists on the Sunshine Committee “why [a
source's identity] should be confidential to them and not to us.” He
says he didn't get an answer. “ There is no difference,” he says. “They admit it by their silence.”

Kline readily concedes that some communications from constituents are “venal,” but he thinks the public interest in protecting potential whistle blowers outweighs the public interest in exposing people who, say, try to buy votes. Kline reasons that some people who have sensitive information won't come forward if they know their identities can be made public. Is that speculation? Of course, Kline says. But he suggests it is also speculative that the lack of a shield law before 2007 kept sources from communicating with journalists. “I feel that those people [who provide sensitive information to legislators] need to be shielded just as they are when they go to a news reporter,” he says.

The press, however, did answer the Senator's question at the Sunshine Committee hearing yesterday. Here is the exchange between Sen. Kline an!
d Rowland Thompson, Executive Director of Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington:

Public schools in Washington receive ample funding

August 31, 2009 in Blog

A coalition of education activists and union officials is suing the people of Washington, claiming taxpayers are not fulfilling the constitutional paramount duty to provide “ample” funding for public schools.

An in-depth study by the Washington Policy Center finds the lawsuit’s claim is not supported by research data. The main finding of “An Overview of Public Schools Funding in Washington” is that by any reasonable measure Washington taxpayers are providing ample funding for public schools.

  • Schools receive more than $10,000 per pupil per year, about one-third more than private schools spend per student.
  • Public education funding has tripled in real terms over the last three decades, including local, state and federal sources.
  • Since 1980 the number of public school students increased 25%, while the number of education employees increased 68%.
  • In 2009, while facing a $9 billion deficit, lawmakers still increased state education spending by 2.8% over the previous budget.
  • Only 59 cents of every public education dollar reaches the classroom.
  • More than half of people employed by public schools are not elementary or secondary classroom teachers.
  • One-third of public school students fail to graduate.
  • Artificial works rules bar highly-qualified professionals, like university professors or Microsoft engineers, from being recruited to teach public school students.

Sunshine Committee votes to repeal legislative records exemption

August 31, 2009 in Blog

At long last the state Sunshine Committee voted to repeal the Legislature's exemption from the public records act. Committee Chair Tom Carr originally proposed the resolution on March 18. By a 8 to 1 vote:

Committee recommends that the legislature eliminate the Legislative
exemption, which excludes from public scrutiny personal records of the
legislature, including e-mails, correspondence, except when designated
as a public record by a “official action of the Senate or House of
Representatives.” Every other legislative body in the state of
Washington is fully subject to the public records act. There is no
principled reason why the state legislature should be exempt. 

Implementing this recommendation would require amendment of RCW 42.56.010(2) as follows: "Public record" includes any writing containing information relating to the conduct of government or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.

This change addresses the Legislature's
double standard when it comes to compliance with the public records
law. Now it is up to the Legislature to act on the Sunshine Committee's recommendation next session.

Voting yes: Thomas Carr, Senator Pam Roach, Representative Lynn Kessler, Rowland Thompson, Ken Bunting, Patience Rogge, Ramsey Ramerman, and Frank Garred.

Voting no: Senator Adam Kline

Additional Information
Legislative records exemption vote postponed again

Kent strike violates teacher contract

August 28, 2009 in Blog

Our research shows that not only is the teacher strike announced by union leaders in Kent illegal under state law, but the decision to strike also violates Article III, Section 10 of the existing teacher contract, the one union officials agreed to just a few years ago. 

This finding raises some important policy questions.  Is a labor strike the best way to educate children in Kent?  What lesson do kids learn when they see grown-ups turning to conflict instead of consensus to resolve their disagreements? And finally, what is the point of negotiating a new contract when one party (in this case the union officials) does not follow the provisions of the current contract?” 

The base contract can be found here.

The No Strike section of the contract is as follows:

There shall not be authorized any strike, slow down, or any other stoppage of work by the Association, regardless of whether an unfair labor practice is alleged. Should a strike, slow down or stoppage by the Association members occur, the Association shall immediately instruct its members to return to work. If the teachers do not resume work as required by the Agreement immediately upon being so instructed, they shall be subject to discipline, including discharge.

UPDATED: Did TABOR destroy Colorado?

August 28, 2009 in Blog

This November Washingtonians will vote on Initiative 1033. The measure is sponsored by Tim Eyman and would create a new revenue limit for the state and several local governments with the goal of annually reducing property taxes.

Due to the similarities between I-1033 and Colorado’s Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), opponents of I-1033 have sought to compare the impact of TABOR in Colorado to what voters can expect to happen in Washington if I-1033 is enacted.

Without debating the details of I-1033, it is worth considering the claims about TABOR's impact in Colorado.

According to I-1033 opponents:

In Colorado, core public structures deteriorated under TABOR. From 1992 to 2005, the state experienced significant decay in health care, K-12!
and higher education, transportation infrastructure, and other basic public services.

The opponents use a bevy of statistics to make their case.

As Mark Twain once noted, however, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics."

Illustrating this observation, the Tax Foundation has come to a different conclusion about TABOR's effect in Colorado. In a report refuting some of the statistics cited, the Tax Foundation noted in 2005:

The state of Colorado is under assault. Opponents of Colorado’s
Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) are waging a well coordinated but
misleading attack on Colorado’s reputation. This attack takes the form
of a number of rankings and statistics that purport to show that the
Taxpayer Bill of Rights has decimated Colorado. These rankings and
statistics are based on the assumption that if Colorado ranks poorly on
things like the adequacy of prenatal care and education spending, then
Colorado is failing to adequately care for and educate its citizens,
and that the Taxpayer Bill of Rights must be to blame. A closer look at
the attacks shows that they fail to prove that the amount a state
spends on health care and education determines quality, and they also
fail to tell the whole truth about the rankings and statistics of the
state of Colorado [please see study and links below for details] . . .

Contrary to the assertions of its opponents, the Taxpayer Bill of Rights has not decimated Colorado. In other measures of fiscal standing, not mentioned by the opponents of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, Colorado compares very favorably to other states. Colorado’s per capita tax burden is the tenth lowest in the nation, ranks as the 8th friendliest business-tax climate (the highest ranking of any state with a sales tax and a corporate and personal income tax), and ranks as the state with the 2nd highest level of economic freedom. It is simply inaccurate to say that Colorado is a sub-standard state based on selectively cited statistics and national rankings, and even more inaccurate to blame the Taxpayer Bill of Rights for any perceived inadequacies.

I-1033 opponents also note the voters in Colorado !
suspended TABOR in 2005, purportedly proving their dislike for the results provided. While this temporary suspension until 2010 did occur, TABOR remains popular in Colorado. In fact, an effort to permanently repeal the TABOR state tax refunds (Amendment 59) failed in 2008 with 55 percent voting against. This means the people of Colorado have decided that TABOR will be back to its full force and effect in 2010.

Does this mean that I-1033 is good or bad policy? That's a debate that will go on till election day but it shouldn't hinge on misrepresenting Colorado's TABOR.

Additional Information
TABOR: What Was Said vs. What Really Happened
Exposing TABOR Data Games
TABOR Benefits !
Colorado's Citizens: A Response to Misleading Video

The Internet's new gatekeeper? Uncle Sam

August 28, 2009 in Blog

Word from CNET today is that the U.S. Senate is considering a bill which would effectively hand over the Internet to the control of the President during a cybersecurity emergency. Senate Bill 773 directs the Office of Personal Management to development and implement a "Cybersecurity Responsibilities and Authority" plan within 6 months of passage.

Kent School District test results on WASL show teachers should not be striking

August 28, 2009 in Blog

The Kent School District provides a glimpse into the broken governance and management structure of Washington's public school system.  Led by their union leadership, teachers have voted to engage in an illegal strike, claiming that, in this time of serious economic distress and 10% unemployment, they are entitled to additional salary increases and reductions to class size. 

Teachers rightfully resent the "one-size-fits-all" approach to school management and improving teaching, pointing out that a high school chemistry teacher may be responsible for 150 students one year and 70 students the next year (see yesterday's Seattle Times article), and that countless meetings required by the district are not productive. 

Why aren't teachers demanding a change to this broken model for running our schools? One would think that teachers would demand that decisions over running schools be taken away from centralized bureaucracies and mandates from Olympia, and instead placed in the hands of the principal and his school leadership team.  Only when management is truly localized will teachers be treated as individuals and respected and rewarded for the important work that they do.  This reform has dramatically improved conditions for teachers (by reducing total student load) and raised student performance in New York City, Baltimore, San Francisco, Houston, pilot schools in Boston, Chicago and Washington D.C.

Instead, union leaders cling to outmoded and illegal practices like teachers strikes to achieve their own short-sighted goals. Union response to suggestions that teachers and students would benefit from putting the principal in charge of his school budget and staff is that principals are subjective and can't be trusted to be fair to teachers.  This argument is entirely unpersuasive, as due process and grievance procedures against those principals who abuse their position would be put in place to protect teachers.  Faceless  central school bureaucracies are far more likely to treat teachers arbitrarily and capriciously than a principal who is well acquainted with the challenges facing each teacher and knows the strengths and weaknesses of each teacher.  

Before the union leadership decided to take this irresponsible and entirely unnecessary action, they should have considered student test scores for the district on the WASL, which are dismal.  The OSPI School Report Card reveals WASL results for the Kent School District.  (Percentages reflect the percentage of students that met the standard on the WASL.)

2008-9 WASL Results

Reading  Math Writing  Science

3rd Grade    65.2%    60.3%   

4th Grade    69.3%    52.6%    54.4%

5th Grade    70.3%    58.7%   34.1%

6th Grade    69.6%    53.6%

7th Grade    51.4%    53.8%    64.3%

8th Grade    67.0%    57.6% 53.3%

10th Grade 78.5%    47.2%    85.1% 33.2%

Clearly, given these figures, teachers in the Kent School District should be increasing the hours they spend in the classroom, and not disrupting student learning by striking.

Greens vs. Science: End of the World Edition

August 28, 2009 in Blog

It is the mantra of the environmental left that they "follow the science." Frequently, however, repeating that claim substitutes for actually adhering to scientific rigor.

The latest example comes today in the Seattle Times, where State Senator Phil Rockefeller claims that "Quite literally, greenhouse-gas emissions threaten to render our planet unlivable." This is simply not true by any reasonable standard.

The body most often cited as the basis for the "scientific consensus," the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that such a threat is virtually nonexistent. The most likely scenario under a "business as usual" approach to carbon emissions is an increase of 1 to 3 degrees C (1.8 to 5.4 degrees F). It should be noted that if we apply current temperature trends, the projections are at the lowest end of that range. Saying that such increases would render the planet "unlivable" is hyperbole to the extreme.

The public should be dubious of policies that rely on unscientific hyperbole for justification.

Grassley Unsure Health Care Reform Will Pass the Senate Finance Committee

August 28, 2009 in Blog

In an interview with Kaiser Health News yesterday, Senator Charles Grassley expressed concern that health reform legislation would not pass out of the Senate Finance Committee when members reconvene after the August recess. The Iowa senator is the ranking Republican in the Senate Finance Committee, the only committee that has yet to pass health care legislation on to its respective floor.

Senator Grassley has seen a real shift in voter sentiment in just the past month. Constituents at his town hall meetings have been extremely vocal about the costs and the consequences of the proposed legislation. They do not want another trillion dollar government program and are worried about loosing the amount and quality of their own health care.

All three House committees overseeing health care legislation, as well as the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pension Committee, have passed out bills with votes strictly along party lines. The sole remaining committee is Senate Finance. Without bipartisan support in this committee, health care reform will either die, or will be pushed by Democrats only. It would be monumental to have major legislation like health care reform passed without bipartisan support.

Additonal analysis of cap-and-trade; will cost jobs and economy

August 27, 2009 in Blog

Earlier this week I noted several key findings from the Heritage Foundation’s state-by-state economic analysis of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade legislation, H.R. 2454.

In related news, Association of Washington Business (AWB) President, Don Brunell, noted on AWB’s Olympia Business Watch blog, a separate economic analysis conducted by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the American Council for Capital Formation (ACCF).

Both of the economic analysis’ provided by Heritage and NAM/ACCF show that the Waxman-Markey legislation will have substantial negative impacts on Washington state’s economy and job market.

Here are a couple of additional key findings that Brunell noted from the NAM/ACCF economic analysis:

    - decrease in disposable income of $696 – 1,213
    - increase in gasoline prices of 21 – 27%
    - electricity price increase of 19%
    - natural gas up 77%

Of particular note, NAM/ACCF finds that:

“The impacts of W/M will be felt especially by the poor who… will spend between 12.4% and 12.8% of their income on energy under W/M compared to a projected 11.5% without W/M.”

This in comparison to a claim by the Congressional Budget Office which found, “that households in the lowest quintile would see an average net benefit of $40 in 2020.”

Kent Teachers' Strike Hurts Students

August 27, 2009 in Blog

Today, the Seattle Times reports that Lisa Brackin Johnson, president of the Kent teachers' union, has led Kent teachers into striking against their students. 

This strike reveals the deep-seated distrust that teachers have for the centralized bureaucracies that run their schools.  If principals were in charge of their school budget and staffing decisions, teachers would feel that they are connected to, and part of, the important budget decisions that affect them, including the number of students assigned to their classrooms.  In middle and high schools, this number is known as student load.  If principals were in charge of their budgets and student loads on teachers, the chemistry teacher mentioned in the Seattle Times article, Michael Imbruglio, would not have a student load of 150 one year and a student load of 70 the next.

This strike is not only illegal, but entirely unnecessary.  Washington's schools receive over $10,000 per student from all state, federal and local sources.  Each class of 20 students receives $200,000, which should allow their principals, not a statewide single salary scale, to determine teacher pay, to pay the best teachers up to $100,000, and to take the rest to run the school.   

As for the class size complaint so often heard in these strikes, this link from the OSPI website shows that the state funds enough certificated instructors to provide class sizes of 18 students.  Too many teachers are simply not teaching, instead drawing salary by reviewing curriculum, administrating, or fulfilling some other less essential function.  This link from the OSPI website shows that out of a total of 103,614 public school employees, less than half, or 49,146, are actual elementary or secondary school teachers.   

The F-195 Budget Overview and School Apportionment forms for the Kent School District(you can find these forms for your own school district here, too) reveal, respectively, that the Total Staff Count of certificated and classfied employees for the Kent School District is 2715.  Of that total, only 1238 are funded through the basic apportionment from the state, elementary and secondary school teachers.   Kent is responsible for the education of 25,499 kids.  By dividing 25,499 by 1238 teachers, you will find that Kent can provide classroom sizes of 20 students. 

Decentralizing budget and staffing power away from central bureaucrats to the local school manager, the school principal, is the best way to re-establish trust and genuine collaboration between principals and teachers, the only people who know the names of the students and can tailor the schooling they provide to the needs of their students.  

Schools receive ample funding from the state.  It is simply being wasted to comply with mandates from Olympia, mandates from school district bureaucrats and other wasteful management practices.  This does not excuse illegal, irresponsible, and unnecessary strikes which hurt school children, led by union leaders such as Karin Brackin Johnson.

Open Government Task Force Members

August 27, 2009 in Blog

State Auditor Brian Sonntag announced yesterday he is creating an Open Government Task Force with Attorney General Rob
McKenna. The purpose of the new Task Force
is to study and make recommendations on the creation of an
administrative board to rule on complaints of violations regarding the
state's open government laws. The Task Force meetings are scheduled for
October 5, 2009 and November 2, 2009 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the
Attorney General's Office in Olympia. Below is a list of the Task Force members:

  • Rob McKenna, Attorney General
  • Brian Sonntag, State Auditor

Staff Contact:

  • Tim Ford, Open Government Ombudsman for Attorney General's Office

Task Force Members:

  • Paula Adams, Public Information and Records Officer for King County Department of Development and Environmental Services
  • Jim Doherty, Legal Consultant, Municipal Research and Services Center
  • Judy Endejan, Attorney, Graham and Dunn
  • Ruth Gordon, County Clerk for Jefferson County
  • Jerry Handfield, State Archivist for Secretary of State
  • John Hendrickson, Kenmore City Council Councilmember
  • Mary Hunt, Douglas County Commissioner District 3
  • Chris Hurst, State Representative, 31st District (member of State Government Committee)
  • Graham Johnson, (Executive Director of the Public Disclosure Commission 1974-1993)
  • Lynn Kessler, State Representative, 24th District – Majority Leader
  • Joel Kretz, State Representative, 7th District
  • Mark Lindquist, Pierce County Prosecuting Attorney
  • Louis Mitchell, Bremerton School Board of Directors
  • Bob Morton, Senator, 7th District
  • Shirley Nixon, Citizen Activist
  • Toby Nixon, President Washington Coalition for Open Government
  • Bob Partlow, Foster Parent Support and Recruitment for Department of Social and Health Services
  • Althea Paulson, Kitsap Regional Library Board Member
  • Kevin Phelps, Deputy County Executive & Executive Director of Operations & Infrastructure for Pierce County
  • Craig Ritchie, Attorney for City of Sequim
  • Rowland Thompson, Executive Director Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington

Here are additional details about the Open Government Task Force:

We [McKenna and Sonntag] created this Task Force to address growing concerns among governments and the public. State agencies and local governments face a logjam of citizen complaints, costly litigation over the PRA and the OPMA, and uncertainty regarding potential liability that may require payment of attorneys' fees, costs, and daily penalties. Citizens who are denied access to public records and public meetings have no choice other than to go to court, and lawsuits may take years to resolve and are costly. Going to court to enforce legal rights to access public records and public meetings is simply not an option for many citizens.

An efficient and inexpensive solution is needed to resolve complaints and provide greater access to public records and public meetings while reducing costs to governmental agencies and the public. Many !
states provide an independent administrative review process to resolve complaints without litigation. These states use administrative boards to offer services including mediation, dispute resolution, non-binding legal interpretations, investigation of potential violations, issuing final appealable rulings, offerings of legislative reform, and training public officials about their responsibilities under the law.

The Task Force may consider the pros and cons of the open government enforcement efforts in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York.