Gov. Inslee: Fully fund K-12 schools, now

Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday unveiled a plan against incrementalism with a proposal to fully fund basic education for the first time in decades, boost efforts to recruit great teachers and fund proven strategies for helping more students succeed.

And do it all now.

“We face an opportunity — and an obligation — in this upcoming session to not just put more money into the system we already have, but to invest in the kind of education system all our children deserve,” Inslee said.

Overall, the governor is proposing $3.9 billion in new funding for K-12 schools. His proposal would boost overall K-12 spending to 50 percent of the state budget for the first time in more than 30 years.

Gov. Inslee with kindergarten students and teacher Brandi Johnson-Kaplicky at Lincoln Heights Elementary in Spokane, Wash., Sep. 14, 2016 (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

Inslee’s budget would meet the state Supreme Court’s order to fully fund basic education and end long-standing disparities between property-poor districts and their wealthier counterparts.

It does so without increasing property taxes. In fact, every district would receive more money from the state, and local property taxes would be reduced for more than three-fourths of households and businesses statewide.

Click on the map below to compare funding increases and property tax changes for each school district.

But Inslee, who unveiled his funding plan alongside educators at Lincoln High School in Tacoma, said his proposal goes beyond the basics mandated by the courts and state constitution.

“I believe the constitution sets a floor, a minimum requirement of a basic education,” Inslee said. “In this day and age, we owe our kids and parents more. We owe all 1 million of our public school children a great teacher in the classroom and access to the programs and services we know they need, including tutoring, counseling and mentoring.”

His proposal would increase salaries to recruit and retain beginning teachers (half of whom now leave within five years); hire more teachers to reduce class sizes; boost training and mentoring to ensure educators are well prepared; fund important student support services such as mentors for struggling students; provide for more career-connected learning and apprenticeship opportunities; and reduce class sizes.

Kim Mead, president of the Washington Education Association, said she supports the governor’s proposal.

“All students who walk through the school door deserve small class sizes and professional support services that provide the individual one-on-one attention they need. All students deserve to be taught by caring, committed and qualified teachers and education support professionals,” she said. “Gov. Inslee understands this requires funding for a competitive, professional base pay and benefits to attract and keep great K-12 teachers and school employees.”

​Tacoma Public Schools Superintendent Carla Santorno also supports the plan.

“As a superintendent, I appreciate the balanced approach taken by the governor that calls on the state to fulfill its constitutional duty and still honors the need for us to provide local support,” Santorno said. “The increased investment in professional development time and resources for both teachers and principals will jump-start our ability to provide students with a world-class education.”

Why do this now?

Inslee says it’s because our children have waited long enough, and so have the courts. The state Supreme Court set a deadline for state lawmakers to approve a budget this session that fully funds education.

But beyond the court’s mandate, there’s growing recognition our underfunded school system is not preparing Washington students for success or meeting the needs of the state’s economy.

While Washington has one of the nation’s most vibrant and diverse economies — and robust budget reserves nearing $2 billion — the state ranks in the bottom third nationally for combined state and local taxes as a share of the economy. Our antiquated tax system does not keep up with the growth of our economy or with the rising needs of a growing state.

As a result, the state has struggled to meet its obligation to fund education and fallen short on providing students and educators what they need to succeed.

Low-income and some minority students still face opportunity gaps. Not enough students are graduating from high school on time, if at all. According to the Washington Student Achievement Council, about 360,000 more adults will need to complete high school by 2023 to keep pace with population growth and workforce demand.

Overall, the governor’s plan includes a mix of tax and revenue changes that would raise about $4.4 billion in new revenue over the next two years in the operating budget to fully and sustainably fund education and address other priorities. The governor is also proposing an additional $800 million for projects in his capital budget. His proposal also would tap the state’s budget reserves.

The governor’s plan calls for:

  • Increasing the business and occupation tax rate for a broad range of personal and professional services from 1.5 to 2.5 percent, generating nearly $2.3 billion in the next two years. Washington, in general, does not tax services to the extent it taxes goods. However, consumers today spend a smaller share of their disposable income on goods and a larger share on services such as those provided by accountants, architects, attorneys, consultants and real estate agents. To make sure very small businesses aren’t impacted, the governor’s plan more than doubles the B&O tax filing threshold to $100,000, providing an additional 38,000 businesses some tax relief.
  • Imposing a new tax on carbon pollution associated with the production and consumption of fossil fuels that would generate about $1.9 billion in the next biennium. Half the revenue would be reinvested in clean energy and transportation projects to lower consumer fuel bills and cut greenhouse gas emissions. Additional funds would support projects to build water infrastructure and improve forest health. Funds are also used to offset taxes to businesses and low-income households. The remaining revenue would go to the state’s education needs.
  • Imposing a 7.9 percent capital gains tax on the sale of stocks, bonds and other assets to increase the share of state taxes paid by a small fraction of the state’s wealthiest taxpayers. It would apply only to the capital gains earnings above $25,000 for individuals and $50,000 for joint filers. Retirement accounts, gains on the sale of residential real property and certain livestock and agricultural land would be exempt. The tax would generate $821 million in fiscal year 2019.
  • Closing or changing five tax exemptions to raise about $300 million, including eliminating the sales tax exemption for bottled water, limiting the sales tax exemption for vehicle trade-ins and converting the nonresident sales tax exemption to a refund program.

The governor will also propose more than $1 billion in his capital budget for school construction.

For the most part, these revenue sources have been debated by legislators in the past.

Some have argued the state should cut other programs, instead of raising revenue, to meet the court-mandated K-12 obligations.

However, that would require deep cuts to core state services, including higher education, public safety, health care and the state’s already fragile social services and mental health safety net for vulnerable citizens.

Others have pushed for more studies, more research and more delay, arguing the state isn’t ready.

Inslee says now is the time to act.

“I am proposing a way to fully fund education and to take the next step in providing not simply a basic education, but a great education for all students,” he said. “I know this is a heavy lift for next session, and legislators will come with their own ideas. But this is the year to get this done.”

The governor plans to address additional priorities in his proposed 2017–19 budget on Wednesday, including funding to expand and improve mental health services and increasing aid — such as health care and housing assistance — for chronically homeless individuals, families and youth at risk of becoming homeless. He will also talk about other education investments, including further expansion of early learning, freezing tuition at two- and four-year colleges and universities at their current levels to retain the unprecedented reduction in tuition approved by lawmakers two years ago and expanding financial aid to an additional 14,000 students.

More details about the governor’s education funding plan is available here.