MARYSVILLE – The state won’t be able to fully fund education without raising taxes.
That was the consensus at the Education Town Hall meeting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School Oct. 18.
Both 38th District Sen. John McCoy and Rep. June Robinson agreed it would take more taxes do to the job.
McCoy said some people would rather the state “reduce the cost” of education. He said that’s really not possible.
“There isn’t that much waste,” he said. When there is a problem, “We take care of them as soon as we find them.”
Robinson said property taxes are the fairest way to raise money, since “we all pay them in some way.” While some of those monies go to local government, the part that goes to the state needs to increase to pay teacher salaries and other costs.
She also supports a capital gains tax. “It’s not new or scary. We pay it at the federal level. Washington is one of the few states that doesn’t have it,” she said. “That would tax the wealthiest people, not those trying to make ends meet.”
Robinson also said tax incentives and corporate taxes need to be looked at because they are outdated and not accomplishing what the state thought they would.
McCoy said the lower and middle classes carry more of the burden when it comes to sales taxes.
“We need a system where everybody in the state can participate,” he said. “Send us your suggestions.”
Both legislators said this has been a tough topic because of so many differences of opinions. Some say raise taxes, while others say they “not another dime because they don’t spend it well,” McCoy said. The legislature is trying to strike a balance.
“The complexity is overwhelming,” Robinson said. “It’s mind-boggling.”
She said each school district is governed locally, and their costs for services vary widely. Schools in cities usually cost much more than those in rural areas.
McCoy blamed the GOP for the lack of progress the last three years. “The legislature kicked the can down the road” by not acting, he said.
Robinson added, “It takes a lot of ear grinding to get anything accomplished.”
Robinson reminded the crowd that some progress has been made in school funding, such as for all-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes.
Marysville School District Board President Pete Lundberg said he understands the complexity of the issue. Differences in district needs have to be respected, and costs need to be adjusted for different regions.
He just wants the state to come up with a sustainable funding source, “not stop-gap,” he said.
Another major problem within the discussions is, “What is basic education?”
Robinson said it is providing students with skills needed to meet graduation requirements of 24 credits. She said that would cost up to $4 billion more than what is in the budget.
McCoy said it would cost up to $5.5 billion more. He said schools need to have counselors, nurses and psychiatrists.
“We don’t have to raise it all at once,” he said, adding Robinson’s figure likely is closer to what would pass this year.
As for how she will represent the 38th District, Robinson said she needs to protect what her Marysville and Everett districts already have. They have some of the highest teacher salaries in the state, so she wants to make sure that whatever happens is “fair and equitable.”
Away from school funding, McCoy and Robinson were asked what else they would like to see the legislature do for schools this session.
McCoy said schools need to teach more to the kids.
“We need to get down to where they are,” he said, adding there is too much focus college. “Eighty percent could be trained to be productive citizens” through vocational programs.
McCoy said another issue with state government is 20 percent of it is turned over every two years through elections.
“We need to let things settle, let things work,” he said. “We have a good school system.”
Robinson said education is a tough issue because, “We’re all experts on it because we draw on personal experiences.”
The one thing she wants to continue to fight for is alternative schools to help kids “find their way.” She said her son had issues but used a different pathway to graduate and at 24 is an engineer in New York.
Lundberg said he would like to delink graduation from high-stakes testing, calling it a disservice to kids, parents and teachers. While it’s a valid assessment tool, graduation should be determined by credits, he added.
He said some people just aren’t good at taking tests.
“I remember taking those tests, and we didn’t lose a moment’s sleep over it” because we graduated regardless, Lundberg said.
Preston Dwoskin, an M-P graduate, and James Stevens, an MSD director, planned and moderated the event to get information out to the community on the issue.
Superintendent Becky Berg said talking about ideas such as at the town hall was refreshing considering “the discourse in our country” with the presidential politics.
1997 – A judge rules the state violates its Constitution by relying on school districts to partially fund education through levies.
2007 – Stephanie McCleary and her family in Chimacum and others statewide sue the state for not providing enough money, instead relying on levies.
2012 – The state Supreme Court orders the state to raise education funding by 2018.
2014 – In January, the Supreme Court gives the state until April to provide a plan to fund basic education.
2014 – In September, the Supreme Court finds the state in contempt for failing to comply with its January order.
2015 – The Supreme Court orders sanctions of $100,000 a day against the state because it still doesn’t have a plan.
2016 – Attorneys appear before the Supreme Court to argue if the sanctions should be lifted or if harsher penalties are needed to spur action.
At a glance
•In 1995, Washington state ranked 11th in the nation in taxes. Now, it ranks 35th.
•In 1990, Washingtonians paid 7 percent in personal funds to taxes; now it’s 4.8 percent. If taxed at the older rate, the state would have $15 billion more in funds.
•The state provides almost 700 tax exemptions, tax preferences and tax deferrals, second in the nation only to New York. Eliminating those would free up more than $30 billion in new revenue.
•From 2014-2018, the cost of basic education in the state will go from $7,279 per student to $12,701 a student. Actual funding this year, at $9,024 a student, would have fully funded basic education for students in early 2014.
•Cutting costs in the state budget is limited, as 70 percent of it is constitutionally or federally protected.