Opinion editorial from Rep. Brad Hawkins: Education front and center in state policy and budgeting
Last year, the Legislature invested an additional $1 billion for K-12 education without raising taxes as a part of its 2013-15 operating budget compromise. It was the first step toward meeting the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision requirements to provide ample funding for basic education.
As we near the current budget cycle's midway point, it's clear the Legislature did the right thing for education. Our local schools are now experiencing the benefits from the education enhancements, which include significant additional funding for K-1 class-size reduction, full-day kindergarten, increased instructional hours, student transportation and more.
In the supplemental operating budget approved March 13, we took additional steps by investing $100 million more into K-12 and higher education.
These steps won't end the debate about education, nor should they. Improving education is a continual process. Often, too much focus is directed on dollars spent and not improvements that could be made without spending a dollar. Legislators should keep this in mind as the dialog on education continues. We must be cautious not to continually reform our public educational system by layering one massive statewide effort upon another. This is especially true as Washington moves to fully implement next-generation student assessments and a 24-credit graduation framework aimed at helping students achieve a new “college and career ready” standard.
Looking forward, we should seek creative ways to meet the McCleary decision, which is not just about more dollars, but where they come from. It would be good to explore tax reforms without new tax burdens. One approach is a “levy-swap,” which has been promoted by prominent Republicans and Democrats, such as former gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna and House Appropriations Chairman Rep. Ross Hunter. The idea's premise is that the state funds a school district's basic educational needs, not local taxpayers through school levies.
If implemented appropriately, a levy-swap or tax exchange would increase the state portion of the property tax while reducing the local levy amount – dollar for dollar. While this would generate no net increase in funding toward education statewide, it would significantly increase the amount of state dollars allocated to education, which is a fundamental issue in the McCleary case. Local school districts that frequently ask voters to voluntarily increase their property taxes to pay for basic education needs, as well as extracurricular activities such as arts and athletics, would be mandated to reduce their local property tax levies commensurate with corresponding state property tax increases. This swap could increase state funding (rather than local funding) by more than $2 billion over time with no net tax increase.
Let's also remember Washington's public education is an integrated K-20 system, involving community colleges and other higher education institutions. I am proud Washington has adopted a “road map” of attainment goals for postsecondary education through 2023, thanks to the efforts of Washington Student Achievement Council Executive Director Dr. Gene Sharratt. This makes sense, because if we don't know where we want to go, how could we possibly get there?
As we seek to improve Washington's educational system, let's continue working together, sharing ideas, and being open to thoughtful dialog. As a member of the House Education Committee, I look forward to being part of the process.
Editor's note: Rep. Brad Hawkins, R- East Wenatchee, represents the 12th Legislative District and serves on the House Education Committee. He is a former North Central Educational Service District board member and past president of the Eastmont School Board. For more information, visit his website at: www.representativebradhawkins.com.
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