In a Jan. 9 news story and a Jan. 12 editorial, The Seattle Times asserted Gov. Jay Inslee had declared victory on resolving the state’s school-funding issues and implied that his latest budget proposal ignores K-12 education needs. Both pieces omit facts and misconstrue the governor’s positions on K-12 education. [“Done with school-funding legislation? Not even close,” Opinion, Jan. 12].
As the state’s budget director, I am very familiar with the progress the state has made on funding education and Gov. Inslee’s dedication to continue this commitment.
In 2007, funding for public schools made up less than 40% of overall state General Fund spending. Today, public schools receive nearly 52%.
That’s because, over the past six years, Gov. Inslee and the Legislature have invested enormously in public education. In fact, during that time, nearly two-thirds of all new General Fund spending — about $12 billion — has gone to K-12 education. And that was the right thing to do.
According to the state Supreme Court, the state for the first time in decades is meeting its constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education.
Resolving the McCleary court case is what the governor’s budget overview document was referring to in saying the state had “largely tackled the state’s school-funding problem.”
But Gov. Inslee has never suggested that all our K-12 needs have been met or that he is done working on these issues. Far from it. Even after resolving McCleary, the state has continued to make significant investments in public schools and related education systems.
The 2019-21 budget enacted last year added nearly $160 million for special education and about $320 million for teacher and school employee health care. The budget also included $153 million to expand and strengthen the state’s early learning system and nearly $43 million for Career Connect Washington, which is giving students hands-on career experience to help them succeed in our state’s high-demand fields.
Meanwhile, the current two-year state capital budget includes more than $1 billion to build and modernize K-12 schools.
In his 2020 supplemental budget, which proposes adjustments to the current two-year budget, the governor includes nearly $200 million in new spending for K-12 schools. Much of that increase is simply what is needed to keep up with the cost of funding schools post-McCleary.
The Times story and editorial refer to special education as an area where the state is still falling short. While the state has been making progress on meeting the needs of students receiving special-education services, Gov. Inslee recognizes we still have work to do. But simply adding more money to the current system won’t get the job done.
That’s why his supplemental budget includes funding for an in-depth study to help the state devise the best approach to address “concerns about (special education) funding and service gaps with future investments.” The study, to be conducted by the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, will enable the governor and the Legislature to offer a more strategic approach for special education in the 2021-23 budget.
Funding education to ensure that students and educators have what they need to succeed is one of the most important things the state does. It is incumbent on us all — policymakers, families, educators and the media — to ensure that we keep students front and center.