Yes on Initiative 728. It benefits county schools

By LISA MACFARLANE

On Nov. 7, voters in Snohomish County will have a chance to vote for a ballot measure that uses state surplus money to improve student achievement in our public schools.

When it comes time to vote, there are three important questions to answer: Is there a need for greater investment in public education? Can we afford to invest more in our schools — does it make fiscal sense? Is it money well spent and will it really make a difference in the quality of public education in this state?

The answer to all three questions is yes.

n Is there a need? In 1993, the Legislature was directed to enact a funding system for K-12 education that was stable, adequate and equitable. But seven years later, no such system exists. In fact, in 1999 schools received over $300 less per student (adjusted for inflation) than they did in 1993.

Since the Education Reform Act of 1993, our schools have implemented some of the toughest student achievement requirements in the nation. These new measures demand that our children perform at increasingly higher levels.

That’s made difficult by Washington’s large class sizes — we have the third worst student-teacher ratio in the nation. Moreover, recent education spending by the Legislature provided funds for only 650 new teachers — a far cry from the 8,000 additional teaching staff our state needs to reach the national average.

n Can we afford it? I-728 increases school funding without raising taxes. That’s because it uses surplus money and lottery funds to bolster public education. The state’s chief economist projects a surplus of 1.3 billion dollars by the middle of next year. I-728 uses a part of that surplus for K-12 education.

Initiative 728 directs the state to return a portion of state property taxes to local school districts. It also dedicates the lottery to school construction — a move that provides ongoing stable funding for K-12 and higher education.

Based on current state financial projections, the initiative allocates an estimated $275 per student to school districts in the first year, rising to $450 per student in the fifth year. For Everett, that translates to an estimated $31.1 million in new funding for the next five years. Other local school districts benefit as follows:

Edmonds, $37.2 million. Oak Harbor, $10.9 million. Granite Falls, $3.7 million. Mukilteo, $23.7 million. Stanwood, $9 million. Sultan, $3.7 million. Marysville, $19.8 million. Arlington, $8.4 million. Coupeville, $2 million. Snohomish, $14.8 million. Lakewood, $4.1 million. Darrington, $1.1 million. Lake Stevens, $11.2 million. South Whidbey, $4.1 million. Index, $500,000.

As I-728 money comes from outside of the general fund, it improves schools without hurting other social services. In fact, because I-728 covers so many of K-12’s funding needs, it allows the state more room within the general fund to pay for other needs like health care, environmental protection and criminal justice.

n Is it money well spent? A recent comprehensive study by the non-partisan RAND organization concluded that there are five key ways to improve student achievement: reduce class sizes, increase per-student funding, improve teacher training, provide early childhood programs, and support after school/summer school programs.

Initiative 728 addresses all of these solutions, and lets local communities decide how best to use the money for student achievement. There are no "one size fits all" solutions imposed from Olympia.

The initiative requires every school district to develop a plan — with public input — for the use of the new funds prior to any money being spent. It also requires school districts to report to their communities annually on how the funds were used and what progress was made.

I-728 is fiscally responsible. The initiative does not exhaust the state surplus and leaves the emergency reserve fund intact. Accordingly, state business leaders have declared that I-728 is fiscally sound.

Leaders from labor, education and social services have also endorsed the initiative.

The Washington state constitution has the strongest possible language regarding the state’s role in education. It says that it is the "paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children."

Let’s live up to those words and honor our commitment to our children. Vote YES on Initiative 728.

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