State representative Ross Hunter (D-48, Medina), the Democrats' budget guru and house appropriations chair, announced today that he's leaving the legislature ASAP to run the state's early education program as director of the state Department of Early Learning.
Hunter, an ex-Microsoft exec who has represented the Microsoft suburbs for 13 years, is known for a lot of things. For starters, by winning his seat in the early 2000s in traditionally Republican turf, Hunter started the red-to-blue transformation in Seattle's eastside burbs, catching the socially conservative GOP off guard as tech culture's progressive social values were undercutting the traditional Republican profile.
Hunter is also: a cancer survivor, one of those "smartest guys in the room" (though, in his case, it's true), a smart alec, a bully, a terrifying and edifying mentor to younger legislators, a great quote, a passionate advocate for bleeding heart liberal priorities, a shill for Microsoft (according to his lefty critics), Rodney Tom's roommate (!), and a top-notch legislator.
(Yes, I'm a Hunter fan. So much so, that PubliCola endorsed him over local liberal favorite Dow Constantine during the 2009 Democratic-side primary for King County executive. Hunter got crushed. We endorsed Constantine in the general.)
But here's the thing Hunter should really be remembered for doing in the state house: HB 2261.
In 2009, a heated Democrat versus Democrat family feud blew up over education reform. Plenty of Democrats were sticking with the teachers' union line against the bill, arguing that a reform bill was an unfunded mandate and legislators needed to focus on funding education before reforming it. Hunter, however, who had the chutzpah to defy the union, saw the longer game. “We have to have a road map for change,” he told me at the time. “We have to know what we’re funding.”
That road map clearly included a stop at the Washington State Supreme Court. The Court's big deal McCleary ruling repeatedly cites 2261, the state's definition of basic education, to justify the $9.2 billion court mandated cumulative upgrade to K-12 education funding. Here's one blatant example from the famous 2012 ruling:
As we consider the remedy question today, we have the benefit of seeing the wheels turn under ESHB 2261. It would be a mistake to disregard that progress now and require the legislature to return to the drawing board.This is especially true given that the legislature has already developed a promising reform program in ESHB 2261. Several state officials testified that full implementation and funding for ESHB 2261 will remedy the deficiencies in the prior funding system. The chair of the State Board of Education, for example,expressed her opinion that full implementation of ESHB 2261 would go a long way toward giving students an opportunity to meet the State’s academic learning goals.
And so, in honor of Hunter's work, here's a Cola article that ran six years ago as he cued up 2261:
The state Senate is queuing up the education reform bill for a vote tonight or tomorrow. And according to Rep. Ross Hunter (D-48, Medina) the Senate added his key “core-24” or “24 credits” amendment which redefines basic education, upgrading graduation requirements to include 24 basic credits. To the chagrin of education reform advocates this past month, Rep. Hunter’s amendment—which is in the House version—had been M.I.A. from the Senate bill.
Education reform advocate Rep. Ross Hunter sports his “It’s Basic” button.
Looking up from her blackberry in the wings of the Senate this afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Lisa Brown (D-3, Spokane) told me: “We have an agreement with the House. It moves in their direction. People will be pleased.”
Not everyone will be pleased. The teachers union, the WEA, has come out strongly against both the House and Senate versions, calling any reforms an unfunded mandate.
WEA spokesman Rich Wood told me this afternoon: “These bills don’t do anything to solve the immediate funding crisis facing our schools. In fact, HB 2261 actually diverts $3 million from the classroom to pay for more work groups. Meanwhile, K-12 schools are going to lose thousands of teaching positions because of these cuts. In September, there will be more students and fewer educators in our classrooms. Redefining basic education means nothing if it’s not funded.”
Rep. Hunter had a different spin: “We have to have a road map for change,” he said. “We have to know what we’re funding.”
For our running coverage of the stand off between the WEA and reform advocates over the education bills: Start here.
Those "work groups" that the union didn't like? Check out how that played into the pro-K-12 funding argument at the supreme court in the McCleary verdict: "ESHB 2261 created a funding formula technical work group to '[d]evelop the details of the funding formulas.' ESHB 2261 essentially put up the scaffolding for a new funding mechanism…"
Hunter stood up to traditional Democratic interests six years ago because he saw the bigger picture when it came to education funding. Admittedly, the state is still coming up short—$3.5 billion, as hunter laid it out last week—but the Court's contempt order to demand the money continues to cite Hunter's HB 2261.
As the court continues to fine the state $100,000 a day (we're at more than $1.5 million now), it's unfortunate that a tough deal maker like Hunter won't be part of the negotiating team to craft a solution. However, with him breathing down the governor's neck at the Department of Early Learning now, the pressure may really be on.