Editors' note: Each day during the holidays, Crosscut will revisit two of the top stories from the last year in a specific category. Today's category is Education. This article was originally published November 19, 2012.
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.
A plethora of associations speak for business on education and other state policy matters and their positions are available for public review. They often join in coalitions to promote the need for public policies favorable to business.
The following review is based on a search conducted last month through policy statements posted on websites and in op-eds which looked for specific mention of the McCleary decision and education funding. (Note: There may be other organizations and also education funding activity that is not posted and easily found. If so, please comment below.)
The Association of Washington Business: The venerable AWB is Washington’s is the state’s largest business association with more than 7,900 members representing 700,000 employees. Its membership includes major employers like Boeing, Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser, as well as many medium-size and small firms. The AWB considers itself the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturing and technology association. Its stated mission is to “advance an economic climate that enables our members, employees, and all citizens to prosper.”
The AWB annually holds a policy summit. This year’s summit focused on national issues: the future of aerospace; health care reform; trade; debt; and new jobs. It has an education and training committee, but no positions on McCleary and education funding could be found. It also publishes a quarterly magazine. The most recent issue carried an article by Chris Korsmo, CEO, League of Education Voters, opposing I-1185, the Eyman measure to re-impose the supermajority voting requirement, which the AWB had earlier endorsed. (Voters just passed the Eyman measure resoundingly.)
Washington Roundtable: Founded in 1983, the Roundtable is comprised of senior executives from major private sector employers throughout the state who work to “create positive change on critical policy issues that foster economic growth, generate jobs and improve quality of life for Washingtonians”. Its education committee “engages on issues relevant to improving K-12 and higher education in Washington and ensuring every student is prepared for work, college and life.” And it supports two education initiatives, the Partnership for Learning and Excellent Schools Now.
The Partnership “communicates about Washington’s school improvement efforts and the need to better prepare… high school graduates for the demands of today’s global society.” Excellent Schools is a coalition of education, business and community-based organizations “working to achieve meaningful education reform that increases student achievement, closes the achievement gap and prepares students to be college and career-ready”. It is promoting a K-12 education reform effort called A+ Washington.
The Roundtable’s education policy agenda includes a commitment to standards, accountability and innovation in K-12 education, increased baccalaureate degree production, and support for research at our universities. No references to the McCleary decision were found in the Roundtable’s website or those of its partnering organizations.
Washington Research Council: The Council supports the state’s businesses with public policy analysis. It focuses on issues of importance to state and local government, and provides the results of its analysis to government leaders, the media, and the public. Education is an issue area that the Council covers, and it has published policy briefs on both K-12 and higher education funding. One addresses the McCleary decision’s funding mandate, but it doesn’t indicate how full funding will be accomplished, except to say that money would be saved if I-728, which was passed to reduce class sizes, were repealed. But enhancements now on the table for funding will also reduce class size as would I-728.
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