Finding real solutions amidst Olympia’s education-funding fantasy | Guest Column

Sen. Dino Rossi

By Sen. Dino Rossi

Promising teachers a huge pay raise and reviving previously failed tax proposals is no way to provide Washington students with a quality education. Nor will it address the real inequities identified in the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision on education funding.

Yet that’s the fantasy some around the state Capitol seem to favor.

Governor Jay Inslee has a non-serious plan that includes $8.7 billion in new taxes that even the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives won’t endorse.

His legislative allies have yet to pass a complete plan at all. Their approach amounts to a Santa Claus letter that tweaks teacher-salary schedules and offers more money to the adults in the system.

But without passing the needed revenue, they really have no plan, only platitudes. The questions every taxpayer should ask Democrats: Which taxes do you want to raise, and how high do you want to raise them?

They hint at a carbon tax of $400 per family on fuel and heating, a massive tax hike on small businesses and even a capital-gains income tax, with a price tag of $7.6 billion over the next four years. Everyone knows they can’t even pass these taxes off the Democrat-controlled House floor.

Worst of all, they offer nothing to improve the quality of education, reward excellent teachers or refocus the system on what is best for students.

Fortunately, the Republican-led Senate proved that real results don’t require a smorgasbord of new taxes. The One Washington Education Equality Act we passed last month is a comprehensive, thoughtful plan that is student-focused and teacher-friendly.

Every child – whether in Medina, Ellensburg, Redmond or Aberdeen – should have access to a high-quality education. But too often, success is tied primarily to a child’s ZIP code.

Money is part of the problem. Despite one-party rule in Olympia for more than 30 years leading into 2013, public education became a declining priority in the state budget. As a result, school districts became increasingly dependent on local taxpayers to make up the difference.

The Republican-led Senate Majority Coalition Caucus reversed this by reprioritizing new state spending towards basic education, with an historic $4.6 billion increase in funding.

But it’s not enough to pump more money into a system that the Supreme Court has already declared unconstitutional. As we invest more in our schools, we must also ensure all students have the same access and opportunities to learn.

Ours is one of only seven states using a prototypical staffing model that is focused on adults and doesn’t account for diverse school districts, like Washington’s. The Senate plan, built around a standard statewide levy of no more than $1.80 per $1,000 assessed property value, would cut property taxes for most Washingtonians yet drive more money to school districts. It also would promote equal opportunity by establishing a minimum $12,500 investment per student statewide.

In addition, the state would provide additional funds for students who have special needs, are English-language learners or homeless. Our plan also would double state funding for highly capable students and for career and technical education.

While it focuses education spending on students, the One Washington Education Equality Act also restores state government to the position of primary provider for K-12 education, and ends the unconstitutional dependence on local-levy dollars.

Our legislation is teacher-friendly, increasing beginning teacher pay to $45,000 from $35,700. It would reward excellence by providing a bonus of $25,000 or $50,000 to the top 5 percent of teachers.

By creating a housing allowance of up to $10,000 for some teachers and staff, we would give parents and schools in high-cost of living districts greater choice in hiring quality teachers. You shouldn’t need a wealthy spouse to reside in the district where you teach.

The bill also sets achievement goals. Schools not meeting the standard and in the bottom 5 percent would have to submit a plan to improve student performance – and receive additional state support in return.

The One Washington Education Equality Act is the only complete McCleary-based set of reforms to pass either the Senate or the House. That’s important because the 2017 legislative session will be judged based primarily on our ability to make the education-funding system constitutional as well as equitable.

Ours is no vague, fantasy plan, paid for with imaginary money or new carbon and income taxes that will never win legislative support. This is the bold, creative and comprehensive reform that our students, teachers and taxpayers deserve.

Sen. Dino Rossi, R-Sammamish, represents the 45th Legislative District, which includes Redmond, Kirkland, Woodinville, Sammamish and Duvall. He is vice chair of the Senate Ways & Means Committee. For more information, visit www.SenatorDinoRossi.com.