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What’s Going On With Washington State Education Right Now?

Washington's Paramount Duty offers insight into the current legislative session and what you can do about it

Published on: January 30, 2017

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Summer Stinson speaking at a rally on MLK Day 2017 on the steps of the Washington state capitol with the Garfield Football Team behind her.
Summer Stinson speaking at a rally on MLK Day 2017 on the steps of the Washington state capitol with the Garfield High School football team behind her. Photo credit: Andrew Villeneuve

Did you hear that in December a GoFundMe sought donations so Northgate Elementary could buy copy paper? Or that high levels of lead were found in drinking water in Tacoma-area schools?

Regardless, you've likely heard that the Washington State Legislature must create a plan that fully funds basic education by the 2018-2019 school year. The hope? That soon public schools will have more paper, less lead.

To help your family better understand the terms that currently dot local education stories —  “levy cliff,” “McCleary,” “competing budget proposals” — I spoke with Summer Stinson, the co-founder and current vice president of Washington’s Paramount Duty, a nonpartisan grassroots activist group of parents and allies that’s committed to ensuring our state fully funds education. Here’s here insight into what’s currently going on with Washington state education.

Before we get into the current education situation in Washington state, tell me: Why did you help found Washington’s Paramount Duty?

I have a 10-and-a-half-year-old who’s in public school and I was concerned about the education funding crisis in Washington State. I saw that all schools need more funding, and some need a lot more. I’m a lawyer and thought I might be able to use my skills to help push our legislators to address the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision [Editor’s note: More on that below]. As citizens, we can become citizen activists. There is such power in making our voices heard in Olympia, especially when we put our collective power and voices together.

As citizens, we can become citizen activists. There is such power in making our voices heard in Olympia, especially when we put our collective power and voices together.

Every education funding article mentions the State Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. What do Washingtonians need to know about it?

The 2012 McCleary decision is basically the Washington State Supreme Court telling the state legislature that they need to follow and fund the constitutional promise that every child receives an amply funded public school education. The state made that promise and the McCleary decision points out the state isn’t living up to this promise. It’s basically saying, ‘Hey, you better follow the constitution. It’s the law at its most basic level.’ 

Why does the McCleary decision need to be addressed during the 2017 legislative session?

Every other year, the legislature creates and approves a comprehensive state budget — this is that year. The state budget needs to address how to adequately fund education based on the funding issues set forth in McCleary. While the deadline for addressing McCleary is September 1, 2018, the budget for 2018 is created this year.

Right now, there are three education plan proposals: one from Governor [Jay] Inslee, one from the Democrats and one from the Republicans. The governor has also released his proposed budget, and we expect the Democrats and Republicans to release their proposed budgets soon.  

What does the McCleary decision have to do with this 'levy cliff' I keep hearing about?

While McCleary technically doesn’t need to be fully addressed until September of next year, beginning on January 1, 2018, school districts won’t be able to collect the same amount of money from local property-tax levies. [Editor’s note: The Seattle Times says this levy cliff could cause a $500 million shortfall for school districts starting in 2018.]

Last week, the House passed a bill, HB 1059, that would delay the levy cliff for one year. Now the Senate needs to pass the Senate version of this bill, SB 1059, before the governor can sign it into law. If this bill does not become law, it’s like taking a patient off life support before the new heart arrives. Because public education isn’t currently being fully funded in Washington State, these levies put vital money into school districts in our state. If the levies decline significantly in January 2018 before McCleary is fully addressed in September 2018, school districts won’t have the funds they need to educate students. The life support these levies provide will go away and our kids will suffer.

What current budget proposal does Washington’s Paramount Duty favor and why? (Whatever budget that passes during this session needs to address how to fully fund education.)

Parent Fuel logoWe’re in favor of Gov. Inslee’s budget proposal. We need fair new revenue sources to help pay for public education and his budget addresses this issue. We’re asking our members to call their two representatives and one senator and tell them they support the governor’s budget because it fully funds education by creating new progressive revenue streams in our state.

What can concerned constituents do right now to address the levy cliff and make sure education is fully funded in our state?

Today [Jan. 30, 2017], the Senate Ways and Means Committee is holding a public hearing at 3:30 p.m. to take public testimony on the levy cliff delay bill. We hope that the committee will schedule an executive session soon to vote on HB 1059, and hopefully, send it to be voted on by the full Senate. Please call Senators on this committee and let them know you want this bill to reach the Senate floor. If it passes from the committee to the floor for a vote [check here for updates], call your senator and ask him or her to vote in favor of the bill [and] that you want him or her to delay the levy cliff.

To make sure our legislators address McCleary and fully fund education [no matter the outcome of the Jan. 30 hearing], call or email your two representatives and one senator. Say ‘I support the governor’s budget because it funds education with new progressive revenue. I know you have the power to help solve our state’s chronic underfunding of education.’

We [Washington’s Paramount Duty] put scripts for phone calls and letter right on our Facebook page and in our Facebook group.

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