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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

February 21, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Clock’s ticking toward deadline, as school funding falls behind

wa tax resources

For years, Washington has failed to provide an adequate education to all students. That, by now, is a widely accepted truth, made official by the state Supreme Court when it handed down the McCleary decision in 2012, mandating more money for schools.

A lot more. The 7-2 decision said that by 2018-’19, Washington would need to put $4.5 billion more toward education each biennium. (Just to be on track, we’ll need an additional $2.3 billion in 2015-’17 alone.)

This would mean more money to hire teachers and counselors, to build science and computer labs — basic stuff for the 21st-century science-tech-and-math skills we say we want in our graduates.

Yet here we are, moving quickly toward the deadline, and a finance expert at the Washington State Budget & Policy Center finds that we don’t have a prayer of making the target — at least, not under the current sales-tax-only system.

“The state’s revenue system was built for a 1930s-era economy,” said Andy Nicholas, senior fiscal policy analyst, pointing out that under this system, Washington won’t even have enough money to maintain current levels of health, public safety and other basic services – let alone the huge sums we need to bring schools up to par.

“Yes, $4.5 billion more for education – there’s some really big sticker shock there,” Nicholas acknowledged. “But since the Great Recession started, we’ve been cutting education funds at a time when we’re supposed to be putting a lot more money toward schools. So we’re in pretty dire straits.”

The left-leaning Budget Policy Center has some (perhaps predictable) suggestions for fixing this, most of them focused around capital gains- and other income taxes. Whatever you think of that, it’s hard to ignore Nicholas’s chart, or with his analysis of lawmakers’ behavior:

“The tack they’re taking seems to be that the money will fall out of the sky when the economy turns around,” he said. “That’s just not realistic. There is virtually no circumstance in which simple economic growth is going to get us to the funding requirements of McCleary.”

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