Dear Friends and Neighbors,
Since I last communicated to you in this email update two weeks ago, House Democrats and Senate Republicans have each released their respective competing plans to address the final piece of our McCleary education funding requirements as directed by the state Supreme Court. Here's a great resource if you're unfamiliar with the McCleary decision.
I'd like to take a few minutes to report on the progress made to date in the education funding debate.
Accomplishments to date
We have accomplished some amazing things for K-12 and higher education the last four years. Just in the past two budget cycles, we have invested an additional $4.6 billion into K-12. Investments since the 2012 McCleary decision have included smaller K-3 class sizes, full-day kindergarten, teacher raises and paying for more materials, supplies and operating costs. Republicans also led efforts to make unprecedented tuition reductions in public colleges and universities. No other state has done this.
The Legislature has until 2018 to complete the final requirements of the court ruling. That means we must act during this session to add the final pieces of the puzzle to the picture. The remaining question is how to end our overreliance on local levies to fund basic education and create a more equitable teacher compensation system. There are two proposals under debate in the 2017 legislative session.
Proposal 1 – Senate Republicans' One Washington Education Equality Act – Senate Bill 5607
On Feb. 1, the Senate voted to approve and send to the House its education funding plan, Senate Bill 5607. The Senate Republican proposal is a student-centered plan that focuses on their individual needs. For example, the plan would establish a standard $12,500 minimum per student funding amount so that every student, no matter where they live, receives the same educational opportunities. The bill would also provide additional funding based on unique student needs.
We have a problem in our education-funding system due to levy tax rates varying widely across the state. For example, Seattle's local levy rate is $1.28, raising $3,712 per pupil. Pasco is $4.05 and $1,267. The Senate plan would equalize that with a statewide flat levy tax rate of $1.80 per thousand.
The Senate plan would set goals relating to reading, math, graduation rates, remediation, and closing the opportunity gap in math and English. It would also bump up the state allocation of beginning teacher pay from $38,530 to $45,000, and provide a housing allowance for teachers and staff in high cost-of-living areas. You can read more about the Senate plan here: The One Washington Education Equality Act
Proposal 2 – House Democrats' education bill – House Bill 1843
This week, public hearings were held in the House Appropriations Committee on the Senate plan, Senate Bill 5607, and the House Democrat's plan, House Bill 1843. Yesterday, Democrats passed their bill from the committee on a party line vote, 18-15. They've held the Senate bill in the committee with no action.
I have serious concerns over the Democrat plan because it does nothing to address the court's concerns under McCleary. For example, the Democrat bill would actually increase the amount of local levies that districts can collect and does not propose reforms that would ensure districts do not use local levies to backfill basic education salaries. This is counter to the directive of the court to reduce over-reliance on local levies. It continues to rely on local levies, which favors property-rich districts.
There are no meaningful reforms and little accountability in House Bill 1843. I voiced my concerns earlier this week at a press conference in Olympia. You can listen to what I said here: RADIO REPORT: House Republican leader said Dem. education plan short on reforms
Also, the Democrat plan would add as much as $6.5 billion in spending to our state's failed and regressive education-funding system, but Democrats haven't provided a funding source for this bill. There is a list of tax bills they have proposed. But there's no indication they would ever take a vote on those bills. They want the policy, which is in House Bill 1843, but it is devoid of any way to pay for it. They don't even have the votes in their own Democratic caucus for the tax bills required to pay for it. The Senate Republican proposal pays for itself without major tax increases the governor wants.
Compare for yourself
We've put a lot of time and thought into the education funding issue. It's very complex. Our current system of funding public education is inequitable for students, teachers and taxpayers. We must eliminate reliance of local levies, reform our regressive levy system and ensure all students receive an equitable, quality education.
Legislative Republicans are not just focusing on education funding. We are also looking at enacting reforms and improving student outcomes. We will continue to refine our solutions, share our views on plans that come forward, and facilitate discussions when necessary. It will take all four caucuses, Republicans and Democrats alike, to solve this problem.
We want to hear from you!
Let us know what you think about these and other legislative issues. Join Rep. John Koster and me for a telephone town hall together on Tuesday, Feb 21, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. To participate in the community conversation, call (425) 616-1855. Similar to a call-in radio show, the format allows you to ask questions, participate in poll questions, or just listen in throughout the hour. We hope you can join us!
Some final thoughts
We've come a long way on the education-funding issue. As House Republican leader, I am committed to finishing the job, providing our students with a world-class education, and protecting taxpayers with a fair and equitable plan. I welcome your comments. Please call, write or email my office. You'll find my contact information below.
Thank you for the honor of allowing me to represent you!
In your service,