Much Work Remains to Be Done to Fund Schools

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Much Work Remains to Be Done to Fund Schools

By - May 19, 2016

The legislature’s annual report on its progress toward meeting the state Supreme Court-mandated McCleary school-funding requirements shows that lawmakers have a lot more work to do.

The report, filed this week, makes clear that there is not enough revenue to provide Washington’s children with the high-quality K-12 schools the state constitution requires.

The committee that published the report, which has been issuing such progress reports to the Supreme Court each year since 2012, has identified five major areas where additional state funding is needed. According to the committee, three out of five areas have already been fully funded since the McCleary decision was handed down in 2012: materials, supplies, and operating costs (often referred to as MSOC), full-day kindergarten, and student transportation.  Unfortunately, however, much of this was accomplished by using unsustainable revenue sources such as the overburdened sales tax, cutting funds from other important priorities that serve Washington’s communities, and using one-time accounting gimmicks.

The report plays up the fact that this year’s Senate Bill 6195 laid out a framework for funding basic education and created the Education Funding Task Force to make further recommendations. While those steps are certainly commendable, the legislature nevertheless did not make enough progress to fulfill its McCleary mandate this year. By the end of the 2016 legislative session, it had failed to make the additional investments necessary to fully fund basic education under the court’s order. Two big-ticket items remain to be addressed during the 2017 legislative session: K-3 class size reduction (which the committee estimates will cost over $1 billion); and staff compensation (the cost of which is significant, but still unknown). Great teachers and small class sizes are necessary for a high-quality learning environment. It is especially challenging to get and keep the best teachers and aides when they are overextended and don’t receive a decent salary.

Excellent schools are a foundation for thriving communities. They set our future generations up for success. And we cannot expect excellent schools in our state unless our legislature makes real and equitable investments in the education system. As we’ve written in the past, finding the billions of dollars required to pay for our K-12 public schools will require policymakers to bring in new sources of revenue, as well as to reform our tax system, which over-relies on the dwindling sales tax and asks the people with the lowest incomes to pay the highest percentage of their incomes in taxes. Further, cutting existing investments in important priorities like feeding hungry kids and having safe communities threatens the well-being of our state and still won’t provide the billions of dollars needed to fund McCleary.

The 2016 session marked the fifth year the legislature convened to work toward complying with the Supreme Court’s order and identifying a solution to fund basic education. Now, the legislature has only one more session to do so: the deadline to fund basic education is the end of 2017.

The clock is ticking.