House divided on K-12 school funding priority; rejects GOP initiative to budget education first

WNPA Olympia News Bureau

OLYMPIA  — House Democrats have rejected a Republican proposal to create a separate budget for public education, and to fund that budget before all other budgets.

Education funding is currently part of the general state operating budget.

Democrats, who are in the majority, rejected the Republican proposal, known as “Fund Education First.” The vote went along party lines, 52-41, Friday.

“Where has the majority party been the last 10 years?” Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-, Enumclaw, asked.

Saying Democrats have been inactive on public education funding, Dahlquist said, “We would not be asking for this amendment today if the majority party had done what they were supposed to do and upheld their paramount duty to fund education first.”

Republicans first introduced “Fund Education First”-type legislation in 2006 and have done so each session.

While Republicans urged their counterparts to pass the amendment, Democrats refused, using the argument that funding education separately would fail to address the multiple financing and operational shortfalls present in Washington’s education system.

Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said the proposal didn’t actually address the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, citing the disproportionate amount of times the ruling mentions the word “funding” versus the word “first” — 233 times to 13 times, respectively.

Article 9, Section 1 of the state Constitution declares, “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders ….”

In its January 2012 decision in McCleary v. State, the Washington Supreme Court unanimously declared that the Legislature must meet its 2018 funding mandate outlined in Engrossed Substitute House Bill (ESHB) 2261 that was passed in 2010 and signed into law by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

Funding measures include the state allocating more than $9,000 per student per year, paying 95 percent of pupil transportation costs, reducing class sizes, funding full-day kindergarten and providing monies for supplies, maintenance and operating costs.

More than $10,000 is being spent now on each student annually by a combination of state and federal funding.

However, Hunter said the Republican proposal is nothing but superficial compliance. “It’s a waste of time and will distract the public,” he said.

Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, said “Fund Education First” is more than a Republican slogan.

“It’s not going to delay the process,” he said. “We’ve already demonstrated we can do this in a very responsible way and in a very timely way.”

But Rep. Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, said he’d rather fund education right than first. Hunger, lack of shelter and poor health can take precedence over concerns for education for some Washington students and families, he said.

“We have a long history of knowing that separate is not equal,” he said. “We [need to] fund education in the context of all of our other obligations, not separate.”

Two freshman legislators, Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, and Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, quoted President Obama as claiming a world-class education is the solution to poverty.

“The path out of poverty is a quality education,” MacEwen said. “Let us say to the children in Washington that we, in the House, will stop holding education funding hostage to other political needs.”

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