Over the last several sessions, the state faced significant budget gaps which forced cuts in education. In January, the Washington State Supreme Court made clear in their McCleary decision that the state is failing to fulfill its paramount constitutional duty to education. The Court called for additional education funding, but it also called for funding to be coupled with reforms and accountability to ensure funds are being spent in a way that supports student achievement.
will you prioritize competing programs within the state budget and within the
The hard task of prioritizing the budget means that we need to determine what is most important to us and work hard to make that a priority. I believe, as does the majority of our state, that education is our first priority. As governor, I will have the discipline to invest a large share of state budget growth into education funding.
Because this growth will occur over time, we need to be smart about our first investments. I will focus my priorities on programs which have been proven to work elsewhere and which focus on struggling students and communities of risk. Providing for after-school tutoring and a longer school year for children who are below standards of proficiency in reading, math and science should be supported. Early learning programs and all-day kindergarten programs are also paramount, as they mitigate demographic and social factors at a young age. My overall guiding principle while prioritizing competing programs will be to put the students first.
As our Constitution states and the McCleary case reinforced, education is the State’s paramount duty. That means the State must fulfill its constitutional duty to provide ample provision for the education of all children.
My litmus test for prioritizing education spending is fairly simple: Is it a proven method of achieving the results we want for our students? If not, then that spending should be directed somewhere where we are achieving results. Investing in early education achieves dramatic results, raising graduation rates and reducing child welfare and public health costs. I believe early education should be among our highest educational priorities.
I do not believe some state services can be sacrificed simply to direct more funding to education. Stripping human services spending to fund basic education is not viable or sustainable. If a child is homeless or isn’t adequately clothed or is suffering from neglect, or malnutrition, that child will have an almost insurmountably difficult time achieving a basic education no matter how qualified and highly skilled his or her teacher is. Educating a child requires a holistic approach.
I would also like to state my commitment to funding educational opportunities beyond the standard assessment skills. The needs for arts and music, athletics and extra-curricular opportunities not only broaden students’ experiences, but they also entice kids to stay in school and provide the reasons for some to stay in school.
How should the state support accountability within the education budget?
We cannot simply spend more money on existing public school programs that are underperforming without first reforming them. Reforms may be difficult, but they are necessary.
Voters’ first budget priority is education, but they don’t want to invest additional funding in the same old way of doing things. That includes many of the items we have discussed already, such as linking compensation and promotion to evaluations, holding districts, administrators and teachers accountable for student achievement, and allowing public charter schools.
I propose implementing an annual efficiency review to track the progress we are making in funding education. This review will monitor our progress on assessing corporate tax loopholes, improving health care and government services, and creating jobs. It will project the expected new education revenue generated from these activities and make recommendations to lawmakers, driving the difficult decisions needed to keep us on track to meeting our paramount duty.
If you were going to support new investments or programs in education, how would you propose that the state cover the costs?
There are five potential sources of funding for new investments and programs in a reformed, innovative public education system:
(1) Savings from a leaner, less costly and more productive general state government;
(2) Prioritizing growth in state revenues to expand education's share of the state general fund budget, given that revenue growth is currently expected to average nine percent per biennium in coming years;
(3) Scrutinize existing tax preferences and loopholes, subjecting them to the same zero-based budgeting rigor that general state spending should receive;
(4) Revenue from the state common school levy, as the McCleary decision is implemented to include a shift from over-reliance on local levies to a predominantly state-funded system, which could prove more stable; and
(5) Reallocation of Master’s degree salary bumps toward other forms of teacher compensation.
Washington State is constitutionally bound to provide an excellent education for Washington’s kids. In 2010 the on-time graduation rate was 76.5%, all while teachers have faced layoffs, budget cuts, and an increasingly mobile population of students—many of whom come to school without English proficiency. By emphasizing Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education, properly funding our schools, and fostering innovation in curriculum development, we can fulfill our obligation to our students and provide them the tools they need to compete for jobs after graduation.
First, the most important thing we can do to bring sustained funding to public education is to improve the health of our economy. To address this I have proposed a comprehensive jobs plan aimed at improving the business climate, helping small businesses, and supporting the key industry clusters that will determine our future prosperity.
Second, I want to review all tax loopholes currently on the books, including: analyzing each one, having the recipients justify its existence, demonstrating the jobs created and revenue generated, and ensuring all exemptions are having the desired effect.
Third, I will work to bend the cost curve on health care inflation, reversing the trend of health care expenses crowding out education investments.
Finally, I will implement a lean management process in state government. Lean management will help state government deliver more services for every taxpayer dollar, to restore faith in government, reduce red tape and make government more responsive to the needs of citizens and the economy. Lean management reforms will stretch every taxpayer dollar and grow the economy, allowing savings to be channeled into education.