Enough of the gridlock, the partisanship, the bickering. It’s time to fully fund public education.
So says Legislative District 33 lawmakers as they addressed residents’ concerns during a two-hour town hall meeting at Kent City Hall last Saturday.
But Olympia remains divided on how to generate and put more money into the classroom. The Legislature has yet to come up with a solution and answer to the school-funding case known as McCleary, in which the state Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the state was failing to meet its constitutional duty to sufficiently fund basic education.
In its order, the court directed the state to correct school-funding woes by 2018.
It hasn’t, and the clock is ticking.
Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, and her colleagues vow to find an answer this spring as the Legislative session passes the halfway mark.
“It is something we have got to get done and get serious about,” Keiser told the gathering. “And we’re going to get it done this year, I’ll tell you that. It may not be a perfect fit because nothing coming out of the Legislature is ever perfect, but it’s going to be good because you don’t want the perfect to be the enemy of the good.”
Keiser – who was joined by district Reps. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, and Mia Gregerson, D-SeaTac, at the assembly – said the solution will likely be an “amalgam of both proposals” to meet the court mandate to fully fund education.
One GOP plan calls requires each school district to levy the same local property-tax rate and apply that revenue toward a per-student funding amount, and allocate state funds to cover the difference between the per-student standard and local funding. House and Senate Democrats are proposing a plan that would ease the burden on local taxpayers by ending the reliance on local levies to pay for basic education. The plan preserves local control of public schools and the funding model that drives dollars out of a transparent, per pupil basis.
Keiser wants results, not rhetoric, even if it takes a prolonged session.
“I assure you I’m not going home, not going to end that session or special session, and it may push it all the way out, without fully funding education,” she said.
Furthermore, Orwall said the need to lower class sizes is vital. Keiser reiterated that starting teacher pay must be boosted.
Public education was one of several issues the legislators touched upon. Topics ranged from health care to gun control, mental health to human trafficking, the opioid-heroine epidemic to climate control. The three lawmakers said the Legislature continues to work on ways to help ease the human struggle, support low-income families, better protect and assist police and safeguard the environment.
As the tug of war continues over health care at the federal level, Keiser bemoans the GOP attempt to repeal of the Affordable Care Act. Anywhere between 14 and 27 million Americans stand to lose basic health care, Keiser said, and that means more suffering, uninsured Washingtonians.
“When you don’t have access, you get sicker, you hurt more and sometimes you die,” Keiser said. “I’m not willing to go back to the 15 or 20 percent (of uninsured Washingtonians). … I’m going to protect that 6 percent, trying to get it down to 2 or zero. We’ve got to fix this.
“We’ve got some opportunities here just because at the federal level things are just at incredible chaos,” she said. “It may open the door for us to move forward.”
Keiser said legislators are looking to formulate a statewide, unified, transparent system that would provide affordable and better health care.
Elsewhere, Orwall echoed the surprise and frustration over substantially higher car tab renewal fees to fund voter-approved Sound Transit 3 light rail expansion throughout Puget Sound.
“We are all shocked by that. There were huge increases,” she said. “There’s obviously strong support to expand transportation in our area. … but we are concerned about the increases, and the Legislature is looking at it because of the way (renewal rates) were calculated. … We do want it to be calculated right at the lower level, the way it should have been.”
Lawmakers are working on legislation to give Washington drivers some relief on their car-tab bills.
For instance, Senate Bill 5851 would require the value of a vehicle to be based on base model Kelley Blue Book values, or National Automobile Dealers Association values, whichever is lower. SB 5851 would also exempt trucks and trailers from motor vehicle excise taxes imposed by a regional transit authority.
Regarding the shrinking state budget, Olympia is looking for more revenue streams. A carbon tax, a capital gains tax and a transaction tax on Internet sales are possible sources of new revenue, the legislators said.
But Gregerson warns of any new “regressive tax” that winds up hurting communities.
“It’s not about taxes, it’s about fairness,” Gregerson said.