Washington State House Democrats


My position on education funding

Funding education is the single most important investment we can make in our state’s future. In recent years, due in part to our state’s budgetary woes, we have failed to adequately fund education, and our public schools have been the target of devastating cuts. The current funding crisis was highlighted by our state Supreme Court in the McCleary decision, which identified Washington’s failure to fulfill its constitutional duty to adequately fund basic education.

Our children have a constitutional right to class sizes that enable them to be able to learn. The Supreme Court ordered us to meet our obligations to fund reduced class sizes for kindergarten through third grade, and pay for every kindergartner to attend a full-day kindergarten by 2018. The cost of taking these steps and paying for basic operations and transportation for our children’s schools – as ordered by the Supreme Court – is $1.4 billion in additional schools support for the next two years.

When it comes to early learning programs, our state is half a century or more behind the science of child learning and brain development. We have an antiquated system of child care, even though we know that the low cost investments in early learning programs are the best way to improve educational outcomes and life-long opportunity for every child. Today, all too often, parents are just happy to find affordable child care without knowing if their child will receive any meaningful early learning curriculum. We must change this and support early learning curriculum and invest in training and compensation for early learning teachers.

Where will the additional funding come from?

Meeting the demands of the McCleary decision will require new, dedicated revenue for education. For the next biennium, we must find an additional $1.4 billion in revenue to meet the next steps toward funding Basic Education as mandated by Supreme Court in McCleary. The anti-tax Republicans and Roadkill Democrats are demanding that we do this without closing corporate tax loopholes or new taxes. But, robbing other parts of the state budget will have disastrous effects, as we will be forced to cut aid to needy families and their children, the disabled, and the elderly. Hungry children, sick children, children who do not have the security of a home… are not going to learn and succeed in school. Education cannot be funded at the expense of the most vulnerable members of our society – we must find additional revenue sources. This means that the two-thirds vote requirement of I-1053 must be removed, and our legislature must explore new revenue options.

On February 28th, our state Supreme Court struck down the Tim Eyman initiative requirement of a two-thirds vote to enact a bill eliminating a tax loophole or adopt a new tax. In striking down Eyman’s initiative, the Supreme Court relied upon the action of last year’s freshmen Democratic legislators (including me) in proposing and rounding up a majority of the House for our bill to eliminate the out-of-state sales tax exemption and devote the revenue to pay for full-day kindergarten. I felt that this effort, which I spoke to on the House floor, was one of the most important things I did as a freshman – along with voting for marriage equality. Full-day kindergarten was recognized by the Supreme Court in the McCleary decision as a fundamental right for our children, which it ordered us to pay for. How ironic, I pointed out, that Republicans and Eyman defend a tax break for out-of state people, and opposed funding full-day kindergarten.

The Supreme Court, fortunately, held that those of us in the majority voting to eliminate this tax break had our votes “completely nullified” by a minority of legislators under the 2/3 vote initiative. Ironically, Eyman and the Republican Party believe that it is ok to give away your tax dollars to special interests with a 50% plus one majority vote to adopt new tax giveaways – but, repealing a tax break can be blocked by a minority.

I look forward to continuing the fight to fully fund education. I am committed to doing this while increasing the fairness of our regressive state tax system. This Session, I am the prime sponsor of the bill to double the estate tax, which would generate $100 million a year for education. Only 300 people pay the estate tax every year in our State. I am leading efforts to rein in corporate tax exemptions, and I will continue to work for a capital gains tax to pay for our schools from early learning to K-12 public schools, to increasing the affordability of the opportunity of higher education. 

The Critical Intersection of Social Services and Education

Last year, Senate Republicans tried to pass a budget that funded education but made severe cuts to social services. This shortsighted plan completely overlooked the critical role that social welfare programs play in helping our kids learn. Children don’t learn if they are hungry. They don’t learn well if their home is not stable, or if there isn’t a parent or guardian involved in their learning. Interest groups and opinion leaders (including editorial writers) who call for fully funding education while opposing revenue increases are essentially disregarding our constitutional duty to provide education of “all children… without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.” The latter half of that constitutional mandate is all too often ignored. We do not provide for the education of all children when we ignore providing for the opportunity to learn and succeed in school – which requires providing for health, nutrition, and housing support for children and their families.

Encouraging Professional Development

Professional development programs are proven to enhance the effectiveness of teachers, and I wholeheartedly support salary and bonus awards for teachers who receive National Board certification. NBCT teachers not only improve the performance of the students in their own classrooms, but for the entire school. NBCT teachers spend incredible amounts of time, as well as large amounts of their own money, to achieve certification, and as a state, we made commitments to fund the steps for NTCB teachers and increased compensation for teaching in our most challenging schools. We must not break those commitments.

Meeting our obligations to fund “Basic Education” and how Charter Schools would impact those paramount duties.

Our state Constitution – and our moral duty as citizens – requires that we amply fund “general and uniform systems of schools” for “all children… without distinction or preference.”

For years, even before the recession, we have been robbing children of their future by failing to fund what our state has defined as “basic education.” That definition of basic education is not even adequate – leaving out early learning. Essentially, our definition of basic education is decades behind the science of child development, which shows we need to be providing essential learning experiences – not just childcare – from ages 3 to 5 for children to succeed throughout their public school careers.

I am a strong advocate for expanding the definition of basic education to include early learning opportunities and programs for all children. My record also includes working to expand our state’s definition of basic education to include expanded high school curriculum for Language Arts (English), math, science, health and foreign languages.

Under the McCleary decision, we MUST find an extra one billion dollars to meet our obligations in the next biennium to fund the next steps expected by the Supreme Court to meet our existing definition of basic education. This does not even include early learning or full day kindergarten for every child!

Nor does this next step and the $1 billion needed include paying for the cost of providing the expanded teacher evaluation programs passed by the Legislature, and urged by the “education reform” community along with many others. We have to find tens of millions of new dollars to enable principals and vice-principals to spend time properly observing and evaluating teachers, and in helping them improve professionally. This includes paying for the administrative support in every school, where principals will now spend perhaps 40 or 50 percent of their time as educational leaders with our new evaluation and professional development system.

Now is the time for every parent, teacher and advocate for our children’s education and our state’s future to unite in a campaign to provide the funding needed to meet this basic obligation.

Therefore, I found it unfortunate and divisive that those who advocated alongside me and many others for fully funding education, and who urged we adopt an extensive new teacher evaluation and development system, to have spent 2012 campaigning for the  charter school initiative on the ballot. We should have been working to put before the voters a package to fund education and meet our Constitutional duties, and to have the Legislature consider that funding package (e.g., closing major loopholes and raising taxes with funds dedicated to schools) or face an initiative.

Charter schools have been a step towards privatization and, by definition, involve a loss of local control and de-professionalization of teachers. I am concerned that the so-called limited experiment sought for our state grew from a handful of schools to proposing 40 charter schools, and that this expansion is fueled by privatization and anti-union agendas. It is ironic that advocates for charter schools can’t articulate why the “reforms” that they cite for charter schools’ performance are not adoptable within public schools without ceding control to an outside operator, removing control from the local school district and removing representation of the educators.

Fighting for Children and Not Punishment

Instead of providing funding to meet the McCleary decision, Republicans and corporate lobby interests are pushing bills this year to increase standardized testing, and punish students and teachers. They are saying the will not agree to provide the funds for meeting our duties to lower class sizes and pay for school operating costs unless the House Democrats agree to more standardized tests and punitive measures.

I recently met with a 3rd grade teacher who has 30 students in his classroom, including several with significant learning disabilities and behavioral challenges. How can we punish the children or the teacher for our failure to provide a classroom where every child has a chance to succeed?

I serve on the House Education Committee, where Republicans demanded we pass a bill to keep every 3rd grader behind in 3rd grade who does not pass a standardized reading test – regardless of whether English is not their first language or. For example, if they are dyslexic or have another learning disability.

Research shows that keeping children behind results in more drop outs and permanent harm.

I drafted and succeeded in convincing my colleagues to vote for an amendment which prevents this mass holding back of 3rd graders until every child has had the benefit of the lower class sizes which is their constitutional right, and only if children have personalized assessment of why they are not reading and intervention to help them succeed. With the amendment, the bill was no longer quite so attractive to those who want to test and punish, rather than provide lower class sizes and instructional help. Let’s focus on what we agree is our paramount duty: to fund schools for every child.


Making the Opportunity of Higher Education Affordable to All


This year, my colleagues elected me to be vice-chair of the House Higher Education Committee, where I am championing measures to restore affordability to tuition and the opportunity of community college and four year university degrees.

Five years ago, tuition at the University of Washington was at 10% of median household income for our State. Many felt that this was a good benchmark of affordability – tuition is often only half the cost of going to college, and many families need to pay for 2 or more children’s education at the same time.

However, today, UW tuition is now doubled to over 20 percent of median household income. Community college tuition is now at the level UW tuition was less than a decade ago.

As an instructor at the UW (Public Health) and a parent, I know students working 3 jobs to stay in school and students with $100,000 in loans! This is NOT affordable. And, we lose the talent of these students who aspired to work in public service, such as rural or global health and teaching, because their loan debts prevent them from doing public service work.

To restore affordability to the promise and opportunity of higher education in our state, I drafted legislation (HB1624) which, for the first time in sour state, would set a goal that to be “affordable”, tuition should not be above 10% of median household income. This is a long-term goal, and we need to make significant investments in higher education to get there.  The bill seeks to drive improved investment in higher education, and I am working to close corporate loopholes and provide tax revenue towards this goal.

Preserving the GET pre-paid tuition plan is also important to the goal of affordability for higher education for middle class families. I am a strong supporter of GET, and helped shepherd the bill to eliminate “differential tuition”, which threatened the future of GET, through the House.

Differential tuition was the scheme to allow UW to charge more for degrees such as engineering or computer science – potentially doubling the cost of an undergraduate degree. By doing so, GET would have to cover doubled costs for future degrees when students, who are perhaps now in elementary school, decide to major in engineering. Differential tuition also threatens the affordability of these degrees for lower income and middle class students, who can’t afford to pay 2x the already too high cost of tuition!

The House passed the bill to eliminate differential tuition (HB 1043) and save GET, but the Leader of the Senate Republican Majority says he wants to eliminate GET. So, this will continue to be a major fight during the Session.

Last year, I led the successful effort to save work study and Need grants from being cut. This year, I am coordinating efforts to ensure we not only save work study, but find a way to provide Need Grants to the 32,000 students who qualify for this basic grant to help pay for tuition, but have not received a Need Grant.

An important step for opportunity is the DREAM Act, which would allow our state’s high school students who are children of immigrants without citizenship to be able to attend college alongside their high school class mates. We had the most amazing testimony from high school students who have incredible promise, and aspire to participate in the American dream – if they can go to college here in our state. I’m very proud that we passed this bill out of committee and hope to ensure it passes the full Legislature this year.