Dear Friends and Neighbors,
On January 9, the state Supreme Court issued an order that said the Legislature is not on target to hit a constitutionally-required K-12 education funding level by the 2017-18 school year. And in a controversial move, the court also ordered state lawmakers to submit a complete plan by April 30 to detail how the state will fully pay for basic education. Not everyone on the court agreed though. Justice Jim Johnson, in a dissent to order, said: “Put simply, the founders did not intend for this court to act in such a role and, more importantly, prohibited exercise of such self-granted power.” As you might expect, this altered the legislative landscape when state lawmakers arrived in Olympia four days later.
State lawmakers have been contemplating some importation questions. First, were the new, large investments and reforms made in K-12 education in the 2013-15 operating budget sufficient enough to put the state on a path to meet the education funding level target by 2017? Second, in a supplemental budget year when normally only small adjustments are made to the operating budget, should large, additional investments be made in K-12 education and, if so, what? Finally, did our state Supreme Court cross that very important, constitutional separation of powers line with its recent order?
In the most bipartisan operating budget in more than 20 years, the Legislature allocated $15.1 billion for K-12 education – representing a 11.4 percent increase in K-12 education spending and a 57 percent increase for early learning spending. Of this $1.6 billion increase from the previous two-year budget cycle, more than $1 billion was McCleary-related investments.
These spending enhancements include: $374 million for maintenance, supplies, and operating costs; $143 million for the Learning Assistance Program; $132 million for pupil transportation; $104 million for K-1 class-size reduction; $97 million for increased instructional hours grades 7-12; and $90 million for full-day kindergarten. As a result of this last investment, 270 schools will now provide full-day kindergarten classes. You can find a list of schools now offering full-day kindergarten due to these investments here.
Additional investments in K-12 education include:
- $24 million for counselors and parent coordinators;
- $19 million for bilingual education;
- $15 million for the Teacher-Principal Evaluation Program; and
- $10 million for struggling schools
I do think the state Supreme Court violated the constitutional separation of powers. I agree with what Justice Jim Johnson said above. It is the responsibility of the Legislature, not the court, to determine an adequate K-12 education spending level. This is what we were elected to do – to set policy and spending levels. I believe our state is on the right track for K-12 education spending, but more work needs to be done in the next budget cycle (2015 legislative session). We can't do it all this year.
Reforms and solutions
State lawmakers should also be monitoring the important education reforms they put in place last year. For example: Senate Bill 5946, which will improve student outcomes and support teachers; Senate Bill 5329, which will bring more accountability to persistently-struggling schools; and House Bill 1642, which will support academic acceleration for high school students.
In its McCleary decision, the state Supreme Court said that simply adding more money to the current system is not sufficient for the Legislature to meet its constitutional duty. Simply put: It is not just about money, it is about reforms.
You can find some of the other education solutions I support in this video my colleagues recently put together.
Fund Education First | House Bill 1174
Since 2006, I have supported legislation called Fund Education First. The concept is simple: pass a separate K-12 education budget before any other state appropriations. Our state has separate operating, capital (construction) and transportation budgets – so why not a separate budget for Washington's “paramount duty” according to our state constitution? By passing a separate, K-12 education budget first, we would ensure it is properly funded each budget cycle. We would also keep our students out of the on-going debate of whether new tax increases are needed. This is not to say that other parts of state government aren't important – they are. Fund Education First would elevate K-12 education to the state's top priority.
In 2012, this legislation received a committee hearing. You can watch one of my colleagues, former Rep. Bruce Dammeier, testify in favor of the bill here. Education advocates signed in for support of the measure, including the Washington Education Association and Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. Unfortunately, despite its bipartisan support, including the chairwoman of the committee, it was not allowed to move forward. It has not received a hearing since.
The 2013-15 operating budget didn't just benefit K-12 education – it made critical investments in our public colleges and universities. Most importantly, it stopped a 27-year trend of tuition increases for students. The budget also increased higher education spending by 12 percent, including an emphasis on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) degrees and the preservation of the Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program.
Telephone town hall | February 6
Rep. Elizabeth Scott (pictured above) and I will be holding a telephone town hall on Thursday, February 6, from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Much like a call-in radio show, this platform allows you to ask us questions and get updates on the legislative session. Simply call 1-800-759-5313 and listen in to the community conversation from the comfort of your living room.
Events at the Capitol
It seems like every day during the legislative session there is a group visiting the Capitol. It is always fun to see people, especially children, lining the hallways and steps of our Capitol. Please know you are always welcome to come visit me in Olympia. For a current list of Capitol Campus activities and events, click here.
I want to hear from you. Please consider sending me a question to my online mailbag at email@example.com. Each week during the legislative session, I'll take a question and share the answer with everyone. I'll also try to answer some questions on my video updates.
Have a great weekend.
In your service,