As a mother of three young kids, including two Seattle Public School students, I understand the importance of investing in K-12 education. In the “McCleary Decision,” the Supreme Court ruled that the legislature is not meeting our constitutional requirement to fully fund basic education. It doesn’t take a court decision to see that education is underfunded – parents see it every day. My kindergartener just graduated from a class with 29 kids in it – which creates extraordinary challenges for even the most experienced teacher to give every kid the attention they need.
I am committed to rebuilding the middle class and working towards a Washington that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few.
Since the McCleary ruling, the legislature has made positive steps – we’ve increased education spending by $4.8 billion since 2011, to reduce class sizes, implement all-day kindergarten across Washington, and increase funding for maintenance and supplies for schools.
This year, while the legislature failed to make a meaningful payment towards our McCleary obligations, my colleagues and I were successful in advocating for keeping homeless students near their schools, easing the teacher shortage, improving the opportunity gap, and reducing overcrowded classrooms.
In the 2017 session we must address the structural shortcomings of our school funding system. The way schools across the state are funded is uneven and therefore unfair and unconstitutional. Local school districts use levies to pay for significant elements of basic education, including teacher pay, transportation, classroom materials, and other things that are the state’s responsibility.
The Legislature is specifically in contempt of court right now because of the unevenness of the system, especially as it relates to teacher pay. A comprehensive solution requires a restructuring of our levy system, which has many defects, and has no quick and easy fix that appeals to both Democrats and Republicans. For a good overview of the issues, check out this post written by former House Appropriations Chair, Ross Hunter.
In order to meet our school funding imperative, I believe the legislature will also need to make changes to our outdated and unfair tax structure.
Our tax structure, which relies primarily on property tax, sales tax, and gross receipts of the B&O tax, isn’t working for Washingtonians anymore. Revenue rises or falls based on the economy. This volatility makes the stable provision of services difficult. And our tax structure is unfair. Our reliance on the sales tax means the poorest among us pay as much as the wealthiest. So, as we are addressing a lack of funding for basic education I believe we also need to address the volatility and regressivity of our system so that we can provide long-term stability and address fairness.
Throughout the interim, the Education Funding Task Force is meeting to discuss possible solutions. While I do not serve on the task force, I am communicating the following principles to my colleagues negotiating on behalf of all of us:
- Urban school districts must see an increase in funding. Districts, like ours, where the taxpayers are willing to pay more in property taxes in order to invest in schools should not be compensating for districts where there isn’t taxpayer support.
- Don’t pit social and environmental programs against school funding – if we need to shift or raise taxes to protect supports for the poor and to protect environmental programs, I’m willing to vote for increased taxes, but only if
- Those taxes are fair, stable, and tied to a tangible benefit for my constituents.
We know that a great education provides a pathway to future success. For my kids, your kids, and kids across the state, I know that we can do better. I am committed to rebuilding the middle class and working towards a Washington that works for everyone, not just the wealthy few.