Education funding plans – don’t believe everything you hear
It will take a third special session for the Washington State Legislature to finish its business this year. Negotiations continue on the operating budget with the centerpiece of the spending plan being education funding to address the 2012 state Supreme Court McCleary decision.
Special sessions are challenging, especially given the closely split Legislature. A slim Democrat majority of 50-48 controls the state House of Representatives. Republicans and a middle-of-the-road Democrat control the Senate with a 25-24 majority coalition.
For the most part, legislators in Olympia work well together. With such slim majorities and each party controlling a chamber, you must have bipartisan support to pass legislation.
Extra sessions are frustrating, but nothing fuels the frustration more than the misinformation and false narrative circulating from the Washington Education Association teachers' union about the proposed education funding plans.
For several weeks, the union has mounted a statewide barrage of radio ads and circulated blatantly false information over social media.
The radio ad states the Senate Republican education budget plan “doesn't increase funding” for the state's public schools, it “cuts teacher pay” and school districts would have to “fire school employees.”
These statements are not accurate, and to say the union takes some liberties with the truth is an understatement. All the plans on the table increase education funding substantially and no school district will see a decrease in funding. I have not seen, nor heard of any plan that would cut teachers' pay. Just the opposite.
The Senate plan actually provides more state money for education than the House Democrat plan, which the union supports. The House does spend more money overall but not more on education. However, it is important to point out two glaring issues.
First, the House Democrat plan relies on $8 billion in tax increases over the next four years, but they do not have the votes for their tax plan. In fact, the governor recently said he did not expect a capital gains income tax or the business and occupation tax increases proposed by both he and House Democrats to be part of any end plan. How can you fund an operating budget or an education-funding plan if you do not have the votes to increase those taxes?
Second, the plan continues to rely on local levies, which is a key issue in the McCleary case. The Court stated, “The state may not constitutionally rely on local levies to pay for basic education generally.” The levies have contributed to the inequality of school district funding and are at the center of the negotiations.
Approval of the House plan would put us in a McCleary 2.0 situation and we would be right back where we started. The good news is, I do not expect the House plan to pass, nor do I expect the original Senate plan to pass. A final plan will likely use pieces of both proposals, as well as a number of ideas from a House Republican proposal a group of our members have been working on since last year.
No matter what the final plan may be, I expect education to do very well in the final operating budget. The goals of our end agreement include fully funding our schools, provide taxpayer relief to our rural districts, protect the state from liability and ensure students have the same education opportunities regardless of where they go to school.
Negotiators are getting close to completing this monumental task. Let us focus on solutions and the facts. There is enough political divide without spreading misinformation to fuel debate.
Rep. Cary Condotta, R-Wenatchee, serves as the ranking member on the House Commerce and Gaming Committee, and also serves on the House Appropriations and Finance committees.