The state Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary decision that the state must spend more on public schools. The legal imperative is an opportunity to rethink education priorities and drive funding toward those goals.
The Legislature’s financial obligation to public schools is outlined in the state’s constitution as its “paramount duty.” Investing in education, from early learning to higher education, will require substantial revenue. Where to find the money is a question that will frame budget conversations until 2019.
A new Joint Task Force on Education Funding is on the hunt. The court retained jurisdiction over the case, providing enforcement leverage and spurring state lawmakers into a swift timetable for boosting education spending.
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Thinking ought to be shaped by realistic budget numbers and priorities. The task force is required to present funding options including those that would not require new revenue.
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The conversation about money rightly begins with a conversation about education goals. Outcomes cannot be divorced from the resources used to pay for them. Credible strategies for addressing kindergarten readiness, high school dropout rates and college/career preparation should top the list of priorities.
Gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna says he would grow the state general-fund budget for public schools from 44 percent currently to 48 percent by 2019. The money would pay for early learning, all-day kindergarten and a seamless academic pipeline from the K-12 system to higher education.
His Democratic counterpart, Jay Inslee has ideas as well but is less specific when it comes to budgeting for them. Inslee would, like McKenna, boost education spending without raising taxes.
Directing more resources to education is key to moving forward. But first state lawmakers must articulate what they’re paying for.