Education spending not enough, but it’s a start

OLYMPIA — A stream of bills flowing through the state House and Senate would pour several hundred million more dollars into educating children in Washington.

But little, if any, of that proposed spending would bring the state closer to fully funding public schools, as required by the McCleary state Supreme Court decision.

Lawmakers aren’t sweating it too much — not yet, anyway — because state tax revenue is expected to increase in coming years after years-long recession.

They know that satisfying the court will require a significant sum — in excess of $1 billion — in the next state budget. But there is a raft of other issues involving students and teachers that cannot be ignored, even if they, too, cost a bit of money.

“I think people understand that there are two conversations going on here,” said Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D-Mukilteo, vice chairwoman of the House Education Committee. The committee had approved 37 bills as of last week.

“We’ve already been told by the court what has to be funded,” she said. “We have to continue fixing the (entire) system. We cannot put our children on hold. We must work to make sure all children in Washington succeed.”

Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, chairman of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, said lawmakers understand a lot more money will be spent on education this session, and getting the most out of those dollars is what other bills address. His panel has passed 39 bills.

“Money has never been the issue. The issue has been the consequences and what you fund and how you fund it,” he said. “How do you get that money to work harder?”

In 2012, the Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers were violating Washington’s constitution by not ensuring the state pays the full cost of a basic education for elementary and secondary students. Justices set a 2018 deadline to comply. Last year they found lawmakers in contempt for moving too slow.

The state will have spent $15.3 billion of its general fund on public schools in the two-year budget that ends June 30. Another estimated $2 billion to $2.5 billion will be needed to meet the McCleary obligation by 2018 — and that’s without spending money on other education programs.

In December, Gov. Jay Inslee proposed a budget for the next biennium containing roughly $1.5 billion for McCleary-related items, including expanding all-day kindergarten statewide, reducing class sizes in grades K thru 3 and providing a cost-of-living increase for teachers. There’s also money for materials, supplies and operating expenses.

House Democrats are expected to release their budget the week of March 23. Senate Republicans will be the last to put forth a budget this session.

In the meantime, the education committees in the House and Senate had each approved nearly 40 bills as of last week which, if enacted as written, would cost between $300 million and $350 million in the next biennium.

The most expensive is House Bill 1491, introduced by Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Seattle*. It would cost $204 million, with the money spent to expand the state’s pre-school program, known as Early Achievers, and improve the quality of child care services. Litzow wrote a companion measure in the Senate.

Early learning programs are not legally part of basic education, so they aren’t considered part of the McCleary case. But Democrats and Republicans say early childhood education is critically important to academic success in later grades and must not suffer because of the spending elsewhere mandated by the court.

“We’re pouring billions of dollars into K-12. We need to start investing in early learning. It’s the best return on investment,” Litzow said.

Among other bills are ones to provide low-income elementary students breakfast so they don’t start the school day hungry; to ensure students who are removed from school for disciplinary reasons continue receiving academic instruction; and requiring schools to let parents of third-graders know if their child is not reading at grade level.

As of Friday, some of the bills had passed one chamber and were headed to the other.

House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, said this is a key period in the session. The focus of legislators begins to pivot toward the budget, and authors of all those bills try to attract broad enough support to secure consideration.

“Everybody knows more money is going to go to McCleary,” he said. “Nobody knows how much more after that.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

*Correction, March 9, 2015: State Rep. Ruth Kagi is a Democrat. Her party affiliation was misidentified in an earlier version of this story.

Talk to us

More in Local News

Dominic Wilson looks at his mother while she addresses the court during his sentencing at the Snohomish County Courthouse on Wednesday, March 15, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Grief remains after sentencing of Marysville teen’s killers

Dominic Wilson must serve 17½ years in prison, while his accomplice Morzae Roberts was given a sentence of four years.

The Washington State University Everett campus on Wednesday, July 25, 2018 in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
WSU ends search to buy land for future branch campus in Everett

The university had $10M to spend. It tried for four years but couldn’t close deals with Everett’s housing authority or the city.

Former Opus Bank/Cascade Bank building in downtown Everett on Thursday, March 16, 2023 in Everett, Washington. It is proposed as the new home of Economic Alliance Snohomish County. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Economic Alliance asks Everett for $300K to move downtown

The countywide chamber of commerce and economic development organization also would reform the Everett chamber.

Logo for news use featuring the municipality of Mountlake Terrace in Snohomish County, Washington. 220118
Mountlake Terrace leaders weighing federal ARPA fund options

Bathrooms, body cameras, generators, radios, roadwork, roof replacement, sidewalks, trails and more loom for the $4.5 million.

Vehicles on Soper Hill Road wait in line to make unprotected left turns onto Highway 9 northbound and southbound during the evening commute Wednesday, March 15, 2023, in Lake Stevens, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Lake Stevens development prompts Highway 9 signal change soon

Turning left from Soper Hill Road can be a long wait now. Flashing yellow turn signals could help with more traffic.

Defense attorney Natalie Tarantino gives her opening statement in the trial of Richard Rotter at the Snohomish County Courthouse in Everett, Washington on Monday, March 20, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Police give emotional testimony at Rotter trial

On the second day of trial in the slaying of Everett officer Dan Rocha, witnesses described a hectic scene after the shooting.

The Walmart Store on 11400 Highway 99 on March 21, 2023 in in Everett, Washington. The retail giant will close the store on April 21, 2023. (Janice Podsada / The Herald)
Walmart announces Everett store on Highway 99 will close on April 21

The Arkansas-based retail giant said the 20-year-old Walmart location was “underperforming financially.”

Michael Tolley (Northshore School District)
Michael Tolley named new Northshore School District leader

Tolley, interim superintendent since last summer, is expected to inherit the position permanently in July.

The drugs seized from a Clorox box and an air mattress box in the car of a courier in November 2020. (U.S. Attorney's Office)
Relatives of Arlington fentanyl, meth ringleader get federal prison

Jose Arredondo-Valdez, the cousin of Cesar Valdez-Sanudo, got nine years Tuesday. Valdez-Sanudo’s wife got 30 months.

Most Read