OLYMPIA -- A bill that requires the state to pass the K-12 education budget before all other budgets found support at a House committee hearing this week, but educators and parents worry the state does not have enough money to adequately fund education.
House Bill 2533, also called Fund Education First, tells lawmakers when to discuss education funding, not how -- or how much -- to fund education.
Rep. Larry Haler, R-Richland, told the Herald that he supports the bill, and education must be better funded at the state level.
"If we continue along the lines of cutting K-12, as well as higher education, the way the governor has been doing, we'll be wiping out our future," Haler said.
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From 2010-11, the state provided66 percent of K-12 education funds, more than three times the amount of local funding, according to a state fiscal report prepared for the Legislature. However, state lawmakers will be considering Gov. Chris Gregoire's proposed $682 million cut to public education.
Rep. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, and prime sponsor of the bill, told the House Committee on Education Appropriations and Oversight that the state is failing in its duty to adequately pay for education.
"The status quo is continuing to fail," Dammeier said. Local governments should not have to struggle to provide funding for education that the state is constitutionally required to provide, he said.
The three main school districts in the Tri-Cities, along with numerous outlying districts, have renewal school maintenance and operations levies before voters in the Feb. 14 election. The cost of the levies to taxpayers has remained stable over the years, though some districts do expect rates to increase a couple cents per $1,000 in assessed property value for property owners.
As the state has cut funding, the levies increasingly have supported basic school curriculum and maintenance while also supporting co-curricular activities such as athletics and the arts.
Tri-City communities are willing to support education through levies, Haler said, but some districts are not so fortunate. Levies do not provide enough revenue in rural districts, where property values are lower, Dammeier said
Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, co-sponsor of the bill and chairwoman of the committee, asked several testifiers how state lawmakers should evaluate what is ample funding for students. The 2011-13 fiscal budget provides$13 billion for public education.
Randy Parr, representative for the Washington Education Association, testified that it is clear the state needs to provide more for public education. Billions more.
"We've done research. You've done research. And we both know how much more we need," Parr said.
Jennifer Estroff, government relations director for the Children's Alliance, testified that focusing too much on education may divert funds from basic-needs programs for children, such as food assistance.
"A hungry child can't learn," she said.
Ramona Hattendorf, government relations coordinator for the Washington State PTA, testified that the basic needs of children still can be discussed with education, but it is important to vote on education first.
"It's not an issue of either, or," Hattendorf said. "We want it all."
Hattendorf said she would support tax reform if it is necessary to ensure proper education funding.
Estroff also said the tax system is broken and needs reform.
"Fund Education First is not a silver bullet," Dammeier said at the hearing. But it gives lawmakers the opportunity to discuss education separately from other budget issues, giving education its due respect, he said.
Before the bill can reach the House, the House Committee on Education Appropriations and Oversight must approve it by Friday.