Senate Democrats join per-student funding effort for schools

By LIV FINNE  | 
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Feb 16, 2017

On Tuesday this week Senate Democrats joined the effort in the legislature to provide a set per-student funding level for every public school child in the state.  The idea was pioneered by Senate Republicans, joined by one cross-over Democrat, who recently passed SB 5607, to provide a guaranteed $12,500 for every child.  That bill is awaiting action in the House.

Meanwhile, the new Senate Democratic proposal, SB 5825, follows the same principle – a state-funded per-student level for every child – and proposes funding of $11,500 per child.

Both bills are in response to the state supreme court school-funding decision in the five-year-old McCleary case.  Some argue that decision is out of date, but lawmakers of both parties are trying to improve the way the state pays for public education.

The concept of a state guarantee of per-student funding, long supported by research from Washington Policy Center, would solve the problem of property-poor districts relying too heavily on local taxes to fund schools.  A uniform per-student dollar amount would provide fair and equal treatment for every student.

Further, the Senate-passed bill would end discrimination in employment by allowing public schools to hire any qualified applicant.  Under the state’s current double-standard, public schools are restricted to a limited pool of applicants who hold a special state-issued certificate, while private schools are permitted to hire any qualified instructor, without discrimination.

Meanwhile, over in the House, Democrats have not made much progress toward funding their education proposal.  Last week, the House Appropriations Committee passed HB 1843 out of committee.  The bill does not include a source of funding, however, and as a result it amounts to little more than wish-list to spend an imaginary $7 billion on administrator salaries and other items.

Although Governor Inslee says he wants to impose a capital gains income tax, a 66 percent increase to B & O taxes on small businesses, and a 25-cents-per-gallon gas tax, House members have yet to vote on these proposals.  It appears legislators, Democrats and Republicans, want to avoid increasing taxes on the working people of Washington. 

For now, all the real action is in the Senate, where forward-thinking lawmakers are considering whether funding schools based on a per-student dollar amount represents the best path forward for the education of the children of Washington state.