The annual financial documents that school districts submit to the State list education revenues by source and expenditures by program. That was about the only point of agreement on the F-196 reports by either side as the trial over education funding resumed Thursday after a week’s recess. Most of the day’s questions and testimony focused on definitions and processes of education finance reporting in Washington.
The State, making its case on Day 19, attempted to undercut a point made repeatedly in past weeks by the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools – that according to the F-196 reports, a sizable gap exists between what the State pays for basic education and what districts actually spend. Questioning the day’s lone witness, Senior Assistant Attorney Bill Clark tried to show that education revenues and expenditures could not be specifically linked through the reports, and that the matter was confusing.
Asked by Clark if the F-196 reports could be used “to track which specific (State, federal and local) revenues are spent on which specific expenditures,” Cal Brodie – director of school apportionment and financial services for the Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction – said they could not. In his follow-up, Clark asked, “Can the F-196 be used to test State funding adequacy for basic education?” Replied Brodie: “I do not feel they can be.”
Brodie said the F-196 provides only information that a district reports to the State, and that the data is not audited before it is posted on SPI’s website. He said districts are not prohibited from listing expenditures that are financed by non-State revenues, such as alternative high schools.
In his cross-examination of Brodie, NEWS lead attorney Tom Ahearne reiterated his argument that school districts bear an unnecessary burden because of the State’s failure to fulfill its constitutional mandate to amply fund K-12 education for all Washington children. “Do you know if local funds are expended to fund State responsibilities?” he asked. Brodie called that a “subjective question” but said, “I do believe at some level (that) local funds are used to fund activities that are State responsibilities.”
Answering a follow-up question by Ahearne, Brodie said the State’s direction in the use of State funds is at “a pretty high level… They kind of stay out of the details.” For instance, the State does not specify class size, he said. Ahearne asked if providing all students with the knowledge and skills needed to meet State standards, including the education reforms outlined in HB 1209, was the State’s responsibility. Yes, Brodie answered, “if that’s what the Legislature has established.”
Brodie said he had made a presentation to the Basic Education Finance Task Force, a group created by the 2007 Legislature to study whether the State is meeting its constitutional duty to amply fund education for all children. “You can’t determine who’s funding what because there’s been no definition of what the State’s responsibilities are?” asked Judge John Erlick. Replied Brodie: “That is correct.” For example, the State’s funding formula pays for 46 certificated staff for every 1,000 students in a district. But “we don’t tell you how many (have to be) teachers,” he said, and how many are counselors, librarians, administrators and others.
Because all districts have that leeway to determine class size and other matters based on how they divvy up their certificated staff, to look at what Washington’s 295 districts are doing would result in “a meaningless pile of information based on what they think is important,” Brodie told the judge. When Judge Erlick asked what process and group could determine how certificated staff should be used, Brodie mentioned the work group associated with HB 2261, the new Washington law that seeks a new definition and funding method for K-12. Ultimately, the Legislature will make the decision to clarify basic education staffing, Brodie said, but for now, it’s “a game of pick-up sticks, figuring out how to unravel it.”
Coming up on Monday: The State will call its next witness.