We can’t afford to provide the young people of Washington state with the best education because our outdated tax system is so out of sync with the modern economy. It’s up to us, the voters and decision-makers, to come up with the revenue plan that will amply fund education.
Providing for the education of our children is one of the most fundamental responsibilities of citizens in a democratic society. Washington is failing, however, in funding an educational system that will fully equip our children for opportunity and success.
Washington’s 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.”[i] In January 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary decision that the state was failing in this constitutional duty and must achieve complete funding by 2018.[ii]
Washington has established goals aimed at increasing student achievement, including funding full-day kindergarten, reducing class size in the lower grades, and increasing hours and requirements in grades 7-12.[iii] The legislature allocated $1 billion towards those reforms in the 2013-15 two-year budget, but that was after four years of recession-driven cuts, when school funding was slashed along with everything else. The Supreme Court deemed that down payment insufficient progress toward ample funding. Fully implementing K-12 improvements will require at least $5 billion in additional funding for the 2017-18 budget –an increase of one-third over the state’s current spending on public schools.[iv]
Washington began ratcheting down the level of spending on public education well before the Great Recession. In the 1991-92 school year, Washington ranked 17th among the states in per pupil allocation. By 2010-11, that ranking had slipped to 30th. Relative to the income of state residents, Washington ranked 24th in 1991-92 and 44th in the most recent tally.[v] Washington’s average student to teacher ratio is the fourth highest in the nation.[vi]
In addition to beefing up the K-12 system, providing educational opportunity to every child in Washington requires strong early learning programs and more investment in higher education. Many of our children now enter kindergarten unprepared for school success.[vii]
Restoring accessibility and affordability to higher education also is important. An increasing share of future jobs will require an associate or college degree.[viii] Since the 1970’s when the state covered 90% of the cost of instruction for higher education, Washington has been shifting the cost of college to students and their families. By 2008, the state only covered 65% of instructional cost. Budget cuts and tuition hikes since then have reduced the state’s share to just 35%.[ix] Washington ranks 47th among the states in the percentage of young adults enrolled in college and 33rd in funding higher education.[x]
[i] Washington State Constitution, Article IX, Section 1.
[ii] Network for Excellence in Washington Schools, Summary of McCleary decision, http://www.waschoolexcellence.org/files/McCleary%20two-page%20summary%202-7-12.pdf.
[iii] Washington Legislature, HB2261, 2009, http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=2261&year=2009; and HB2776, 2010, http://apps.leg.wa.gov/documents/billdocs/2009-10/Pdf/Bill%20Reports/House%20Final/2776-S%20HBR%20FBR%2010.pdf.
[iv] The Joint Taskforce on Education Funding of the Washington State Legislature concluded that funding agreed to enhancements not counting compensation would cost $1.7 billion above population and inflation growth annually by fiscal year 2018. The Compensation Technical Working Group authorized by the state legislature in 2009 recommended a $1.6 billion annual increase in compensation by that same year. Joint Taskforce on Education Funding, Sizing the Enhancements, Oct 12, 2012, http://www.leg.wa.gov/JointCommittees/EFTF/Pages/Meetings.aspx#Nov07; http://www.k12.wa.us/Compensation/CompTechWorkGroupReport/CompTechWorkGroup.pdf.
[v] Total state, local, and federal revenues are included, because states differ in how they allocate responsibility for funding schools. Ranking includes the 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Washington ranked above only Colorado, Virginia, South Dakota, Arizona, Tennessee, Florida, and the District of Columbia. U.S. Census Bureau, Public School Finance Data, http://www.census.gov/govs/school/.
[viii] Washington Employment Security Department, 2012 Labor Market and Economic Report, p. 53, https://fortress.wa.gov/esd/employmentdata/docs/economic-reports/annual-report-2012.pdf.
[ix] Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board, Key Facts about Higher Education 2012, Introduction and Key Facts, p. iv, http://www.wsac.wa.gov/sites/default/files/keyfacts2012.pdf.
[x] National Center for Higher Education Management Systems, “Percent of 18 to 24 Year Olds Enrolled in College for the Year 2009,” and “State and Local Support for Higher Education Operating Expenses Per $1,000 of Personal Income for the Year 2011,” viewed March 4, 2014, “http://www.higheredinfo.org/.