Congratulations to Gov. Jay Inslee, who has won another four-year term. Now the urgent real work of reforming education begins. The school children of Washington cannot waitany longer for the state to fix the way it pays for public schools.
Inslee made education a centerpiece of his re-election campaign. And voters sent him back to Olympia for four more years. Now they and the Legislature need to hear Inslee’s voice and feel his leadership, through ideas and, when needed, political pressure.
Here’s what’s at stake: a first-rate education for all of Washington’s children, whether they live in Medina or Mabton. Almost five years after the state Supreme Court ruled that the state’s school-funding model is unconstitutional and creates an untenable inequity across the state, the most difficult work lies ahead. To answer the McCleary ruling, the Legislature must end its reliance on locally raised taxes to pay for basic education — when it convenes in January.
Too many school children continue to drop out of school, get unequal education services because of their families’ economic situations and miss out on important career opportunities. More than 20 percent of Washington high school students drop out before graduation. Well under half of Hispanic and black elementary children are passing the new statewide English and math tests, while about 65 percent of white kids meet the standard in English and more than half in math.
On the negotiation table is local levy reform, which might come with some pain for urban taxpayers, not to mention more money from another source, such as a new capital-gains tax. And most important, any new money or redistribution of existing dollars needs to be spent on methods proved to improve the outcomes for Washington’s students.
Still under contempt of court, the governor and the Legislature need to pick the most fair and least painful financial solutions. They should not waste the 2017 legislative session arguing. There are other important issues, of course, from how to improve the state’s mental-health system to consideration of an assault-weapons ban.
But lawmakers should take care of the education question first. The governor should increase the pressure by saying he will sign only education-related bills until the McCleary work is finished.
All Washington children deserve a great education that gets them ready to pursue college or a career. The governor has a major role to play in ending the stalemate on education funding. He also has an opportunity to turn the conversation toward solutions that would make lives better for kids, such as more money for quality preschool and a new approach to career and technical education with a science and technology bent.
Inslee spoke about these concepts during the campaign. Now he and state lawmakers need to fill in the details and turn ideas into programs.
The governor could set the tone for the 2017 legislative session by presenting a bold budget proposal in December that includes some new money for education and state funding for innovative plans to improve student outcomes statewide.
It’s been a long five years since January 2012, when the Supreme Court made its McCleary ruling. Many education-policy leaders have left the Legislature for new jobs. Inslee can help fill in the gap with his natural enthusiasm. Time for Inslee to push the Legislature to change the education fortunes for all of Washington’s children.