Time is right to pass Fund Education First legislation
Since 2006, House Republicans have introduced legislation that would require budget writers to fund education with the first dollar, not the last. I believe this is critical to ensuring K-12 basic education is not shortchanged. That's why this year I co-sponsored House Bill 2533, the Fund Education First bill.
The Fund Education First proposal received a public hearing on Jan. 31 and the response was overwhelmingly positive. The state Supreme Court ruling in the McCleary vs. State of Washington backed up my belief that budget writers are not treating education as the “paramount duty” our state constitution outlines.
One clear example is the governor's proposed budget. Her plan would cut $630 million from basic education funding and then gamble that voters will approve a sales tax increase this fall to “buy back” the education cuts and other services. This is the wrong approach and, I believe, sends the wrong message to students and parents.
House Bill 2533 would begin to remedy this broken system of drawing down parts of the budget equally. The state Supreme Court confirmed basic education should be elevated above all other programs in the budget. This measure would finally direct the Legislature to fully fund basic education first in the budget, then allocate tax dollars to other state programs and agencies according to their priority.
As one person pointed out in his testimony, while House Bill 2533 is not the whole solution to amply funding basic education, it would put a spotlight on how and where education dollars are being spent. I believe the transparency and accountability in the Fund Education First plan would go a long way to rebuilding parent, teacher and student trust.
Unfortunately, budget writers have not always taken the “paramount duty” directive in the constitution seriously. In fact, while the governor has proposed millions of dollars in cuts to education, agencies like the Department of Ecology (DOE) are seeing their budgets grow year over year.
One current example is that even as we grapple with the $1.5 billion spending gap, the DOE sent out a press release letting cities and counties know that there will be grant money in the budget to pay for the agency's new stormwater rules and regulations. How can this be in the budget while the governor's proposal cuts education funding, including levy equalization? Not to mention, the majority party, to my knowledge, has not released their supplemental budget, which makes me wonder how the agency can commit to the funding.
Fund Education First is a simple concept that is timely and sends a positive message. As part of the minority party in the Legislature, I don't make the final decision on the budget, but I can offer my ideas and influence the outcome.
I firmly believe if we first prioritize education in the budget we will send the right message that we are putting kids first. Giving every child a solid opportunity at educational success is critically important.
Education is the great equalizer and our Forefathers recognized this fact by putting direct and unmistakable language in our state constitution. Because they stated very clearly that the education of our children is our paramount duty, we must Fund Education First, amply and equally across the state.
Rep. Mark Hargrove, R-Covington, represents the 47th Legislative District. He serves on the House Education and Education Appropriations and Oversight committees. He is also the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee.