Washington state boosted spending on public education by about $12 billion over the past six years.
Is that enough? Should more be spent?
Of course. More can always be done to improve K-12 education.
But as the Legislature prepares for its annual session, which starts Monday, it’s unrealistic to expect a significant boost in spending.
Nor, frankly, would it be wise for lawmakers to invest a great deal of time trying to build on the overhaul of education that’s been going on since the Supreme Court ruled the state was not meeting its obligation to fully fund basic education.
This year’s legislative session — like all even-year sessions — is called simply so lawmakers can fill holes in the budget, not to overhaul the state budget. The task ahead in the 60-day session is for the Legislature to tweak the budget through approving a supplemental budget.
Yet, at least some education advocates, enthused by all the funding gains made in the past few years want to continue building on the success.
That’s understandable, but unrealistic given the shorter session and the fact this is an election year. Lawmakers don’t want to get embroiled in controversy. They want to fill the holes, adjourn and get on to the election in which all House seats and half the Senate seats are on the ballot.
A state work group has proposed a $5.6 billion budget increase to hire school nurses, psychologists and other non-teaching staff, according to The Seattle Times. Those positions are now funded, for the most part, by local levies. In addition, the work group wants increased funding for teacher salaries, homeless students, school construction and other spending priorities pushed by state associations for parents, educators and school boards.
That’s going to have to wait until 2021.
Not only does the Legislature not seem to have an appetite for a deep dive into education funding, the public does not seem to be in a mood for more taxes. The passage of Initiative 976, the measure that caps car tabs at $30 and reduces transportation funding, is a clear indicator of that.
This does not mean lawmakers should coast for the 60-day session. They have plenty of important issues on their agenda, including how to fill holes in the transportation budget that could be on the horizon if I-976 is ultimately ruled constitutional by the courts and becomes law.
Yes, education remains a top prioirty for state government, but it likely won’t be the focus of the 2020 legislative session.