Opinion

Washington’s public education funding crisis jeopardizes our future

As a united coalition of school district administrators and teachers’ union leaders, we believe that:

n Washington’s State’s education funding system is broken;

n We need a comprehensive plan to fully fund public education;

n This new funding system needs a sustainable revenue stream to support it.

The Washington State Constitution declares, “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders … ”

Despite this, the most strongly-worded constitutional mandate in the nation to put public education above all other issues, Washington State today is falling far short of providing the necessary dollars to prepare children to live and work in the 21st century. Washington ranks 43rd in the nation in K-12 state education spending, according to an annual Education Week study, which gave the state a dismal D-plus grade in school finance.

As a result, though the bulk of Washington’s K-12 education funding comes from the State, an ever-increasing share of the burden is being shouldered by the state’s nearly 300 school districts and the families they serve. We deeply appreciate our local communities for their support of our schools, and call on the State of Washington to fully fund public education so that our local levies can provide the supplemental services for which they were intended. Local levy dollars, originally intended to provide enhancements to each district’s educational program, are now being used to make up the difference between the funds needed to provide a basic education for all students and the funds that the state actually provides.

The gap between what the State provides and what it really costs to provide a 21st century education has widened dramatically since the current school funding system was established in 1977. This 30-year-old funding system fails to recognize the increased expense of helping students meet the high academic standards they must achieve to live and work in today’s society. It does not take into account the growing importance of technology, the increasing numbers of students with special needs, or the gradual disappearance of blue-collar jobs and corresponding increase in careers necessitating post-secondary education. Most importantly, the funding system established in 1977 does not take into account today’s standards-based education and assessments, instituted in 1993 to provide statewide accountability and better prepare students for work in a global economy. In fact, the per-pupil allocation of state funds that school districts receive hasn’t even kept up with inflation and the rising costs of everything from bus fuel to employee health insurance.

Faced with repeated budget shortfalls, many school districts are draining their reserves, cutting electives, foregoing new textbooks, reducing teachers, laying off support staff, curtailing library services, putting off critical maintenance and more. Increasingly, families are being asked to contribute basic classroom supplies.

Continued lack of adequate funding will jeopardize our future. Without a stable and equitable system that amply provides for the education of all the State’s children, our education reform efforts will be for naught and we will have failed ourselves, our kids and generations to come.

We urge you to contact your legislators and advocate for full funding of public education in Washington State. Our children deserve it.

This Guest Opinion was singed by Dr. Larry Nyland, Superintendent of the Marysville School District; Arden Watson, President of the Marysville Education Association; as well as eight other school district superintendents and the presidents of eight education associations.

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