The cold hard fact is that the Senate and House of Representatives have yet to reach agreement on a new operating budget. The sticking point is not so much on the spending side but on the revenue side. We must reach agreement before new education dollars can be allocated.
Keep in mind that with the growth in our economy, we already expect $3 billion more in our state treasury, over the previous budget. But, House Democrats are demanding another $1.5 billion above that. They intend to get it by raising taxes. They want additional taxes on small businesses and even want to tax bottled water again (voters had rejected that tax in 2010).
Senate Republicans passed a no-new taxes budget and still fund education. When it comes to education, school funding is part of the state operating budget. We will also have enough money to support state employee contracts.
For the 30 years before our Republican majority began leading the Senate in 2013, education was a declining priority in the operating budget. Support for non-education was growing at twice the rate of support for education. This was contrary to the state constitution, which makes providing for education the Legislature’s number-one duty. The long decline in support for K-12 schools set the stage for the Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling in the McCleary case, which said state government needed to put much more money into public schools.
Our last biennial budget began reversing that trend, with a $1 billion installment. Still, the court turned up the pressure in 2014. It found the Legislature in contempt and mandated one more session to get school funding in order. Regardless of party, all legislators want to completely fund education.
While the Senate budget this year (for 2015-17) isn’t perfect, the largest slice of funding goes to K-12 education: 47 percent. A share that large hasn’t been seen since Washington’s most recent Republican governor, John Spellman, was in office 30 years ago.
In dollar terms, the Senate budget increases funding for public schools by over $2.7 billion (to $18 billion, from $15.3 billion in the current budget). It is the largest increase, in number of dollars, in state history.
Teachers have made it clear that they want to see the Legislature come through with money for reducing class sizes and increasing pay for educators. The Senate budget includes $1.3 billion for K-3 class size reduction, all-day kindergarten, and enhanced funding to districts for books, supplies, and related costs (all of which respond to the McCleary decision as well). The Senate’s bipartisan capital budget also complements the effort to reduce class sizes by providing for 2,100 new classrooms, to allow for fewer K-3 students per classroom.
The Senate budget does not require tax increases yet would fund teacher COLAs at the level approved by voters in 2000 through Initiative 732.
Keep in mind that the Senate proposal is tantamount to a first official draft. It is intended to be a position from which to negotiate other related education functions and needs.
While we voted out a complete, balanced budget, the House Democrats have only passed the spending side of their budget – they have yet to take the votes on their tax increases. They’ve written a check they can’t cover without raising $1.5 billion in new taxes over and above the $3 billion in new revenue that’s already coming in.
When balancing a budget, tax increases should be a last resort, not the first option. The people of the 31st Legislative District have made it clear that they do not favor higher taxes. It is also important to know the Senate budget would expand mental-health treatment and preserve services for the needy. We also cut tuition at state-run universities an average of 25 percent.
The budget we passed provides my request for $500,000 to begin a dual-language program in the Auburn School District. I have been working for many years to bring language opportunities to English-speaking students. With all this talk about education it’s time to get serious and offer our kids the same opportunities for language development as we see in many nations across the world.