Legislature ends with basic education funding unresolved
March 25, 2014
By Elliot Suhr
OLYMPIA — House Bill 2797 and Senate Bill 6483 have a lot in common. Both increased funding for K-3 classroom construction, both had bipartisan sponsorship and both failed to reach the governor’s desk.
In McCleary vs. Washington, the state Supreme Court ruled the state was not sufficiently funding basic education. Earlier this year, the court ordered legislators to quicken the pace of funding to meet McCleary obligations — including K-3 class size reductions. According to the National Education Association, Washington state is fourth worst in the nation for classroom sizes.
House Bill 2797 would have sold $700 million in lottery-backed bonds to fund K-3 classroom construction; it passed out of the House 90-7 with bipartisan support. It failed to make it to the Senate floor after State Treasurer Jim McIntire said lottery-backed bonds were too risky.
“I think the challenge I had was we could issue bonds from the lottery, but you don’t get the lowest interest rate,” Sen. Mark Mullet (D-5th District) said. “If you’re going to borrow hundreds of millions of dollars, you have to make sure you’re borrowing at the lowest interest rate possible.”
SB 6483 would have sold $825 million in general-obligation bonds — as opposed to lottery-backed revenue bonds — to modernize STEM facilities, fund all-day kindergarten and reduce K-3 class sizes.
Rep. Chad Magendanz (R-5th District) supported the bill through its passage in the House.
“I was a big proponent of that and was very disappointed it didn’t go through the Senate,” he said. “This is an appropriate way to use state debt. This is an investment and it’s appropriate to be bonding that debt.”
Magendanz is the assistant ranking minority member of the House Education Committee as well as a member of the Governor’s Education Funding Workgroup.
Several bills failed to make it out of the chambers this session, including bills to fund teacher cost-of-living adjustments, close tax exemptions for basic education and amend teacher evaluations to maintain the federal waiver for the No Child Left Behind act.
The House Democrats proposed a supplemental budget earlier this year that included a bill that would raise $100 million for basic education by closing tax exemptions. Leaders in the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus said education funding discussions would be better suited for next session, when the 2015-2017 biennium budget is on the table.
The state Supreme Court called for more money to pay for existing reforms — including teacher cost-of-living adjustments, additional funding for schools and a plan to fully fund basic education by April 30. According to lawmakers and education officials, the state needs to find $5 billion for basic education by 2018.
Mullet said the session left the question of funding hanging.
“I think we’re way behind,” he said. “I don’t think we have a good plan.”
To help raise funding in 2015, he said he planned to focus on economic growth, closing loopholes and funneling dedicated marijuana revenue to education.
Magendanz said he wanted focus on taking financial responsibility to pay for education away from local districts, bringing it back to the state.
“This is a state responsibility and that money should be coming from the state,” he said.
Beyond that, he said the state needs some serious compensation reform for teachers to ensure they get paid appropriately.