OLYMPIA REPORT: Schools must be No. 1 priority

Our state constitution is clear: Education is the “paramount duty” of the state. The recent state Supreme Court decision in McCleary vs. State of Washington reaffirmed what many of us already knew to be the case – K-12 basic education is not being amply provided for in the state budget. The solution to this is to fund education first.

As a co-sponsor of House Bill 2533, a bipartisan measure that would require budget writers to fund education before any other program or state agency receives tax dollars, I feel strongly now is the time to get serious about our constitutional mandate.

The governor’s proposed budget would cut education funding by $630 million, then gamble on sending a tax increase to voters this fall to “buy back” our kids’ education. This is the wrong approach. We should not roll the dice with the future of our children.

House Republicans have introduced a Fund Education First proposal for the Legislature’s consideration each year since 2006. This is the first year the proposal received a public hearing. On Jan. 31, students, teachers, education advocates, superintendents, principals and concerned citizens came to Olympia to share their thoughts on the Fund Education First proposal before the House Education Appropriations and Oversight Committee.

It was exciting to hear from groups that represent education stakeholders statewide that they also believe that pulling a basic education budget out of the general budget is a good start to addressing transparency in school funding. Many advocates also noted that House Bill 2533 would start the needed debate on how a solid K-12 school system impacts higher education.

Until we address the shortfalls in the K-12 system, we cannot begin to look at how other areas of the state budget fall in line for funding. I believe, and I was pleased to hear groups statewide agree, that the current model of throwing all programs in the budget “spin cycle” is not working and House Bill 2533 is the first step to begin to align spending with our constitutional mandate.

There were the naysayers who fear we are upsetting the apple cart by revamping how we craft the state budget. It is deeply disappointing to hear some believe we can’t change the failing status quo budgeting. This failure has created a model that makes education and services for the most vulnerable targets of the largest budget cuts, while increasing budgets for state agencies like the Department of Ecology.

I have also heard that in this tough budget crunch, now is not the time to change the budgeting system to fund education first. On the contrary, it is in the most difficult budget times that we must ensure the Legislature is required to treat education as the paramount duty in the budget.

Fund Education First would not pit people dependent on social services against kids as some have claimed. The best way to lift people out of poverty is with a good education. We can pay for a quality education now to help our children be successful in life, or we can pay later in corrections and welfare programs.

The time could not be better to show our children we will put them first. Let’s pass Fund Education First and ensure future legislatures won’t roll the dice with education funding.

Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, is serving her first term in the 31st Legislative District. She is the assistant ranking Republican on the House Education Appropriations and Oversight Committee. She was also appointed to serve on the House Education, Rules and Technology, Energy and Communications committees.


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