Washington businesses have spoken a great deal about education, which turns out to be the big question facing the next Legislature and the new governor, Jay Inslee.
Indeed, both in recent months and even before this year's McCleary decision from the state Supreme Court forced the issue front and center for next year, business groups have been remarkably outspoken about the importance of education for the state's economy.
Surveying the Internet for the positions of business groups and major companies here, it's common to find statements about the need for a good education for all students. Here, for instance, is what the Washington Alliance for a Competitive Economy has to say:
The most important thing our state can do to ensure a better future for Washington is provide a quality education for all students. Recognizing that 70 percent of jobs will require postsecondary education by 2020, Washington must move toward a K-12 system designed to improve college and career readiness for all students. This system should be based on the idea that all children deserve high quality teachers and schools driven by standards that adequately prepare them for college and work.
That kind of view has also been heard from the outgoing Gov. Chris Gregoire, as well as from Inslee and his well-matched opponent, Rob McKenna.
But there's a difference between what Inslee and McKenna had to say about financing and what the sitting governor has learned from her eight years of experience. Late in the campaign, at an Oct. 25 news conference, Gregoire again counseled the two candidates that an improving economy alone will not meet the state Supreme Court’s ruling in the McCleary case that basic education must be amply funded.
She might easily have included the state’s business community in her admonishment.
A survey conducted by the author suggests that our leading businesses and their supporting organizations have been virtually silent on how the Legislature should answer the court’s mandate in the McCleary case that “regular and dependable” tax sources be found to fully fund basic K-12 education. A few have even suggested the court got it wrong. But all want the state to embrace, and fund, educational enhancements that support the high-tech industry.
Funding of education, both K-12 and higher education, is likely to dominate the Legislature’s agenda when it convenes Jan. 14. An interim work group, the Joint Task Force on Education Funding, has identified more than $3.4 billion in new basic education enhancements to be phased in over the next three state budgets over the coming six years (Washington enacts two-year or biennial budgets). The money would go to class-size reductions, student transportation, books and other operating costs, and full-day kindergarten. Additional enhancements are under consideration.
The task force has been directed to develop a “reliable and dependable” funding mechanism. It has been given the latitude to recommend several options, but it must recommend a preferred option. One option can be based on no new revenues; however, the task force then must identify cuts to other programs that will produce the needed funds. The task force will grapple with the issues at its next meeting on Tuesday.
Gregoire believes the next Legislature must make a start on K-12 funding in the 2013 session. She will soon send her final budget proposal to legislators, which she indicates will include a down payment of at least $1 billion and also address a shortfall of $1 billion or so for other programs. And she indicated in her Oct. 25 remarks that her proposal will include new taxes to fill the gap; that's something Inslee reiterated last week that he believes is unnecessary.
Business has a large stake in an excellent public education system, which it often articulates by suggesting a direct linkage between quality education and a vibrant economy. It strongly promotes STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. And the business community also advocates for favorable business tax treatment, including tax breaks.
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