Basic education has become Washington state’s top priority.
The state Supreme Court has mandated the state pay the full cost of kindergarten through high school by 2018.
The state Senate majority, Republicans and a few conservative Democrats, has put a proposal on the table that comes up with a down payment — an extra $1 billion for education over the next two years — on the mandate without collecting more taxes.
Senate Ways and Means Committee Chairman Andy Hill, R-Redmond, said the Senate proposal is about prioritizing education.
Yet, many people who have long advocated spending more on education are not thrilled with the Senate plan because it cuts other state services.
What did they expect? The money has to come from somewhere and, to this point, the voters have shunned tax increases and the Legislature hasn’t had much of an appetite (or political will) to raise taxes.
Washington state can spend only what it takes in from taxes and other sources. It can’t borrow money as the federal government does (and does and does) to balance the budget.
The Senate plan, according to The Associated Press, seeks more money for classroom materials and supplies, to pay for student transportation, to make progress providing access to full-day kindergarten for all students and to beef up programs that help struggling students and failing schools.
Much of the $1 billion would come from taking away health insurance from part-time school employees, making teachers pay more of their health insurance, taking money away from vocational education and construction, replacing the state high school tests with national exams and using the cash that would have gone to teacher cost of living raises. The rest, AP reported, would come from cuts to programs that help the poor or disabled.
“This is a smoke-and-mirrors budget that takes money out of one education pocket and puts it in another education pocket,” said Mary Lindquist, president of the teacher’s union, the Washington Education Association.
There is nothing deceptive about this plan. The Senate was upfront about its intentions.
The major complaints are about losing pay and benefits or seeing the social safety net become smaller.
Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan to raise about $1 billion more for schools has also drawn criticism. Inslee, a Democrat, is seeking to end tax breaks and extend taxes about expire (essentially raising taxes).
Where one stands on such issues, as the old saying goes, depends on whose ox is being gored.
In coming up with $1 billion more for education — either by cuts, more taxes or a combination of both — oxes must be gored.
Not too many years ago, when the economy was booming and the tax dollars were flowing, the choices lawmakers had to make were not as difficult.
No more. We can’t have it all — at least not at the same time.