Yesterday I attempted to explain how Rob McKenna's controversial "Property Tax Swap" proposal works. Today I'm going to explain why it is so crucial to McKenna's education spending plan.
It is an accounting trick—a sleight of hand that allows McKenna to meet his promise of spending an additional $1.7 billion on K-12 education in the 2013-2015 budget, without actually spending a penny more on K-12 education.
I want to be absolutely clear: Under McKenna's plan, our schools will not receive an additional penny of funding than they would have under the baseline funding formula already in place. The entirety of McKenna's $1.7 billion in promised new state education spending comes from shifting local levy dollars into state levy dollars. But total state and local dollars spent remains the same. Our schools will have no more resources after this $1.7 billion levy swap than they did before the levy swap, and McKenna's own spreadsheet—the one editorialists widely lauded him for producing—proves it.
The Stranger was not invited to the July briefing where McKenna handed out printed copies of his spreadsheet, but Josh Feit at PubliCola was, and he kindly guided me to a copy he scanned and posted online. These are McKenna's numbers, not mine. And they just don't add up the way he says they do.
On line two of McKenna's spreadsheet (all numbers in $1,000's) he shows 2013-2015 baseline K-12 spending at $14,089,077, and additional spending coming entirely from $1,656,000 in "Levy Swap." Note 4 on his spreadsheet clearly states: "for 2013-15 NSGF needs for K-12 = the K-12 Baseline + all Levy Swap $'s." That $1,656,000 levy swap number matches the figures from the Levy and Local Effort Assistance Technical Working Group report I cited yesterday, figures based on the same bill (Republican Senator Joe Zarelli's SB 6858) on which McKenna has based his proposal.
That's McKenna's additional $1.7 billion in K-12 spending for 2013-2015. It's all levy swap dollars. And it is achieved entirely by shifting local spending to state spending—that is, our schools will have $1.7 billion more in state dollars to spend, but $1.7 billion less in local dollars. Voters expecting an additional $1.7 billion in total K-12 funding for 2013-2015 will be disappointed. It's a wash. The money isn't there!
This is McKenna's ballyhooed $1.7 billion downpayment on the McCleary decision: a $1.7 billion accounting gimmick that leaves Washington state's public schools just as underfunded as they are in the current budget. And it's not just "partisan hack" Goldy saying it. It's McKenna's own spreadsheet. It's math!
There is an argument to make in favor of the levy swap as a tool for increasing funding equity between rich and poor school districts, and in fact the McCleary decision mandates more equity. But McCleary also mandates more total K-12 spending. And to claim that that the levy swap increases K-12 funding, as McKenna does, is more than misleading. It's a bald-faced lie.
McKenna claims that The Stranger is not invited to its press conferences and briefings because we're not real journalists. But the truth is, I was not invited to view this spreadsheet and question the candidate on it because I have a long history of doing actual math.
McKenna's education plan does not spend an additional $1.7 billion on K-12 education in the 2013-2015 budget. In fact, it provides no additional K-12 spending at all. Now it is up to the real journalists to do their job and inform the public about McKenna's misleading claims.