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Most Washingtonians would agree that good schools – from early learning all the way through higher education – are essential for our collective well-being as a state. This legislative session, lawmakers have the opportunity to help create an education system that will offer better opportunities for Washington state’s kids and young people. While much of the conversation in the Legislature right now is centered on the money, it should be focused on what’s at stake – equal opportunity for future generations to reach their full potential.
Our Progress Index shows that progress is stalled or going backward on 11 out of 13 indicators related to education in our state (see Figure 1 for a summary; and see the full Progress Index to review all the data we use to measure progress). For example:
Progress on education is stalled due to our broken revenue system. Our state has unbalanced tax policies that favor wealthy families and big businesses, and it disproportionately relies on revenue from low- and middle-income families and small businesses. As a result, funding for education has fallen behind by 14 percent since 2008. On top of that, the Legislature needs to increase funding for K-12 education by $4.5 billion to fulfill requirements under the Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling and to give teachers – who haven’t had a cost-of-living increase in six years – a long-overdue raise.
Proposed Budget Investments
The good news is that lawmakers are taking steps to strengthen
Washington state’s education system. Both the House and Senate budget
proposals take steps to invest in early learning, K-12, and higher
education. The proposed investments, however, differ in magnitude (see Figure 2).
Both budgets recognize that investing in our youngest learners is one of best things we can do to improve the future success of kids and close the opportunity gaps experienced by children of color and children from low-income families. They propose:
K-12 Public Schools
With the State Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling and a contempt order looming, funding for K-12 public schools is a focal point of the budget proposals from both the House and Senate. Although large investments are made, some reforms are neglected. Both bills propose:
Washington state students experienced the second-biggest tuition hike in the nation since the start of the recession. The House and Senate budgets present differing strategies to make college more affordable, as follows:
Funding for education helps ensure our schools keep and recruit talented teachers. It also provides up-to-date technology, good textbooks, necessary school supplies, reliable school-bus services, and safe buildings. These are all essential resources to provide our youngest and oldest students with the skills they need to be successful in school and life.
While it’s certainly commendable that both the House and Senate have made education a priority in their budget proposals, more needs to be done. The status quo is not an option. We cannot afford not to fix our broken revenue system. To make progress as a society, our state should have a world-class, equitable system for all students. That includes high-quality teachers, curriculum, and enrichment activities throughout early learning, K-12, and higher education. The way to make this happen? Lawmakers must ensure we have adequate revenue to create such a system.
To read our additional recommendations for how to improve our state’s education system, visit the education section of our Progress Index. Stay tuned for “Progress in Focus” blog posts on the other sections of the Index.
NOTE: Data on early learning and child care in the Progress Index can be found in both the Education and Good Jobs sections. While the early learning system should, first and foremost, be an investment in child development, it is also critical to the needs of working families.