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Fund Education First Legislation to Receive Public Hearing Tuesday, Jan. 31

There is a lot of discussion about K-12 education in Olympia this legislative session, driven in part by a state Supreme Court decision handed down in January that said the state is failing to meet its constitutional duty to provide a basic education to all children. The McClearly decision backed legislation already on the books that requires the state to fully fund education by 2018. Lawmakers do not have to figure out a solution this session.

House Republicans have forwarded a bill they say will help solve the education funding problem. House Bill 2533 would require the legislature to pass a separate K-12 education budget before any other state appropriations. Sponsored by members of the House Education Appropriations and Oversight Committee and others, the "Fund Education First" bill is set for a hearing before that committee on Tuesday, January 31, at 8:00 a.m. Bill sponsors Rep. Bruce Dammeier and Rep. Cathy Dahlquist are encouraging the public to weigh in on the issue.

"The recent McCleary decision on education funding only strengthens the case for Fund Education First," said Dammeier, R-Puyallup, in a press release. "The state Supreme Court said clearly that we are failing in the paramount duty to our students. There must be a clear understanding in the Legislature that all state programs and services are not equal, and education is paramount. Fund Education First would change how we budget for our schools. It would require the Legislature to face up to its constitutional responsibility with a specific budget vote."

Rep. Pat Sullivan, the House Majority Leader, cautions that separating education funding from the rest of the budget isn't so easy. Health care, for example, can be critical to keeping a child in school. And, there are programs that work in both education and other systems. Team Child, for example, works to ensure youth involved in the juvenile justice system can continue to get an education. "Education funding is too tied to other parts of the budget," Sullivan said.

Additionally, the legislation referred to in the McCleary decision lays out a what education investments need to be made where and when to achieve full funding by 2018. "We already have a plan in place," Sullivan said.

Bill backers also point to proposed cuts to education as a reason for concern. In the proposed budget Gov. Chris Gregoire presented to the legislature late last year, the governor included $682 million in cuts to K-12 education to help close a $1 billion budget shortfall caused by the recession. She also asked lawmakers to put a referendum on the March ballot asking for a half-penny increase in the state's sales tax that would expire after three years. Most of the nearly $500 million a year generated by the tax would go toward "buying back" the education cuts. Backers of the Fund Education First bill said relying on a voter-approved tax increase is a gamble.

"Gambling on a voter-approved tax increase to fund schools will no longer be the way the budget system operates," said Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw. "Basic education would get the first dollar and every other program would fall in line for tax dollars based on priority."

Sullivan agrees that relying on voter approval of a tax increase isn't the best way to fund education. "There's no question that you can't put Basic Eduation on the ballot," he said.

House Republicans have introduced Fund Education First legislation in the past, including last year with House Bill 1415. Language added to the bill this year would make it effective immediately as lawmakers grapple with the current budget shortfall, rather than waiting until next year's budget-writing session.



The public hearing will be held at:

Education Appropriations & Oversight -  02/02/12  8:00 am
House Hearing Rm A
John L. O'Brien Building
Olympia, WA

To find out more or get updated information, go to the committee's web page.

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