This afternoon the Republican controlled Senate’s Ways and Means Committee passed its response to the education funding crisis. Senate bill 5063, proposed by committee chair Sen. Andy Hill (R-45, Redmond), would devote two-thirds of all state revenue growth to education. If this sounds familiar, it’s because Hill tried the same thing last year.
Republicans hope to capitalize on the $2.9 billion uptick in revenue that's forecast to come in this biennium as an "Education First" alternative to the governor's (and Democrats') annual call for new taxes to pay for the education funding shortfalls caused by the estimated $1.5 billion K-12 McCleary mandate, for example.
Sen. Hill and fellow Republicans may be getting a bit ahead of themselves, as the current budget will require more money to meet current non-education financial obligations. Just to maintain current commitments, for all non-education programs—public health, safety, childcare, and services for seniors—will cost $500 million above and beyond current resources.
Between 2017 and 2027, the Republicans' two-thirds equation earmarks two thirds of any revenue that exceeds the previous biennium's tax receipts immediately into education spending. (The two-thirds rule would not be in effect, of course, if there were no new additional money coming in.) This would cover all financial obligations related to education, from Early Learning, K-12 and higher education.
Kim Justice, Senior Budget Analyst, at the left-wing Washington State Budget and Policy Center (WSBP) attacked the plan on Tuesday, calling it “tantamount to rearranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship.” The deck chairs in this case are the state's fiscal resources and the sinking ship is the "state’s broken revenue system," Justice said. “This is yet another attempt to avoid real challenge facing our state, which is we have a broken revenue system.”
And if the Republicans think they are satisfying the public’s demand for education funding through this plan, they’re not hitting that mark either. Justice points out that the bill’s “rigid” two-thirds formula will amount to $1.8 billion in funds for education, not nearly enough to meet the state’s estimated $4 billion in education commitments.
To simply fund education at our current levels (we spent $18 billion in the current, concluding biennium) would cost an additional $1.2 billion in the upcoming 2015-'17 biennium.
Meanwhile there's an additional roughly $2.8 billion, including: requirements to increase investments in school-bus transportation and the schools’ daily operating costs and supplies (MSOCs) such as paper and books both ordered by the Washington Supreme Court in the McCleary decision for roughly $720 million; phasing in smaller class sizes through 3rd grade, also part of McCleary ruling for $520 million; and implementing I-732, cost-living-adjustments (COLAs) for K-12 employees and community/technical college faculty member for $240 million. Finally, Initiative 1351, passed by voters last November, which requires class sizes be reduced to 25 students from fourth through 12th grades, will cost the state an additional $1.6 billion.
With only $1.8 billion in revenue, roughly two thirds of the new revenue, being diverted to education, the budget will still come up short on education funding.
Hill addressed the liberal critique after the proposal passed his committee this afternoon; Sen. Hill said: "It's not the total package, it's just one tool," for funding education.