Guest Column: Education reforms should include funding education first, accountability

February 3, 2009

By Contributor

By Rep. Glenn Anderson

There is a simple solution to the false argument that we need to raise taxes to adequately fund the education of our children. The Basic Education Finance Task Force put forward a bold bipartisan restructuring plan for our K-12 system that eliminates the unfair and damaging inequities in our current system. Along with that plan, I believe the state should adopt the “fund education first” approach to budgeting.Our state constitution makes it clear that education is the “paramount duty” of the state. The funding debate should end there. It is explicit the priority of educating our children must be considered above other state programs. An educated citizenry is the best firewall to minimize societal dysfunctions, encourage limited government with low social costs and empower individuals to prosper.

The Fund Education First measure, House Bill 1657, would create a dedicated account for K-12 expenditures before any other state appropriations. It would also assure parents, teachers and students that regardless of our economic or political circumstances, our K-12 education policy and funding will take precedence every legislative session.

This approach to budgeting would create an entirely new form of accountability in our education system. By allocating dollars first to our K-12 system, we would all have better understanding of where and how our schools are spending tax dollars.

Instead of the yearly debate about additional taxes to fund education, the discussion would turn to accountability and how to best meet the academic goals we set out for our students to ensure they are successful in the K-12 system and beyond.

In addition, this form of budgeting would create transparency. Parents and taxpayers would know what the Legislature is spending, allowing all of us to focus on the core issue — are we getting what we are paying for? And, if not, why?

We know the competitiveness of the global economy will demand more of our children, and a world-class education is the competitive advantage they need. Yet, three-quarters of our students do not have a basic proficiency at entry-level mathematics. An accountability, transparency and standards-based approach is the only way to bring schools up-to-date and fit the realities of today’s classrooms.

The task force’s approach in the recommendations can get us there without new or higher taxes. Education should not only be funded first, but preserved above all other items in the budget. If other nonessential programs need funding, advocates for those programs should ask the taxpayers. Education should not be the poster-child for every tax hike.

It’s time to take a leap of faith, end the funding debate and embrace the bipartisan effort put forward by the task force. Together with funding education first, Washington would have a solid foundation to move our education system forward, ensure high-performing schools and graduate kids ready to compete globally for high-tech jobs of the future. It’s time to set the false “taxes first” argument aside and do what’s right for our kids.

Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-5th District, served on the two-year Basic Education Finance Task Force. He also serves on the House Subcommittee on Education Appropriations and is the lead Republican on the House Higher Education Committee. Reach him at anderson.glenn@leg.wa.gov or 360-786-7876.

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