Initiative 728 will support education across the state

Voters should put lottery profits toward what the state constitution calls the Washington’s paramount duty: education.

On Nov. 7, voters have a chance to do that and more to support education. They should grab the opportunity and say yes to Initiative 728.

Like any law, no initiative is perfect. In this case, however, the parental activists leading the campaign have produced a solid initiative because they did their work well. They took their time. They listened to a wide variety of people all around the state. The authors drafted and re-drafted their ideas so carefully that even legislators were impressed.

It’s much the same way John Carlson approached two tough-on-crime measures some years ago, Hard Time for Armed Crime and Three Strikes. It’s the way to write a good initiative.

I-728’s opponents raise sensible, honest concerns. The measure would have the effect of loosening the I-601 spending lid. Because more money is earmarked for specific purposes, the Legislature’s budget options are narrowed. That’s a generally worrisome trend, but it must be admitted that voters have shown an increasing preference for setting aside specific revenues for designated purposes.

In this case, moreover, the purpose is to help education. Two essential parts of the I-728 involve setting aside money for the state’s schools. First, lottery funds will — finally — be earmarked for education rather than general fund. To be sure, there’s not enough money earned in all the lottery games combined to pay for a substantial share of educational costs. At least, however, the money will be going to education, which most people all along thought the lottery was supporting.

The lottery profits would be divided between the state’s existing education construction fund (established by I-601) and a new student achievement fund. More importantly, the achievement fund would also receive a dedicated share of the state’s property taxes that now goes directly to the general fund.

Under the initiative, each school district would spend its share of funds on one or more of six options. The choices would be for smaller class sizes in kindergarten through fourth grade; smaller class sizes in some areas of instruction for older students; summer school, extended school day programs or longer school years; teacher training; early childhood preparation for school; and remodeling or additions to schools for smaller class sizes. Each district would have to make an annual report to the public on how the money had been spent and how student achievement had been affected. The measure forbids using the money for paying teachers more for the same amount of work.

Those controls are good but they could be tighter. In years to come, the Legislature should feel free to rewrite the accountability provisions.

The dedication of property taxes for education is designed to increase the percentage of school finances provided by state rather than local property levies. That’s a worthy goal because it would reduce the inequitable burdens between the fortunate districts with large commercial property bases and those that must depend mainly on taxing homeowners. And school finances would become more predictable and less dependent on levy campaigns.

Overall, Initiative 728 is a well-conceived measure that can serve the public and the state well by solidifying Washington’s support for education. That’s worth voting for.

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