Kicking the can down the road is a game that kids have played through the ages. Adults, too, are good at this game. Just look to Olympia for proof. Our state legislators are playing a similar game. They are kicking any solution to our state’s education funding mess to the next group of lawmakers in the 2017 Legislature.
There’s plenty of blame to go around: lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle, special-interest groups and Gov. Inslee. Not surprisingly, it seems no one wants to squarely take on the issue. After all, for lawmakers hoping to forge a lengthy career in Olympia, it doesn’t pay to take courageous stands or own unpopular views.
There’s no doubt that owning up to its responsibility to fund basic education will take courage. The challenge beyond that is in coalescing otherwise divergent views about how to “adequately fund” schools into an achievable plan, as the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision has mandated. Court justices, who have ruled our current funding mechanism is unconstitutional, have given the Legislature a 2018 deadline to come up with a plan. Until then, they’re being fined $100,000 a day.
Adequately funding public education will also require (big surprise) leadership by legislators who possess intestinal fortitude. After all, we’re not talking chump change here. To adequately fund basic education for our public schools, the cost will be in the billions of dollars each year. It’s going to take lots of mental gymnastics, thinking outside the box and a willingness for common-sense compromise to forge a workable plan.
Leadership involves dropping, at least for the moment, the endless posturing, partisan grandstanding and entrenched positions that have dampened the bipartisan spirit so far.
Because state government leaders haven’t stepped up, individual school districts are resorting to running unpopular local levies highly unpopular with taxpayers. Even the tax revenues generated by those levies aren’t enough, forcing districts to reach into their operational and maintenance budgets just to maintain the status quo. It’s a “rob Peter to pay Paul” dilemma.
Randy Dorn, the state superintendent of public instruction, has been vocal in his frustration with the Legislature and the governor. Inslee is advocating a pay raise for teachers as part of the overall funding solution, which Dorn and others believe will bust the state’s already overburdened budget.
While taxpayers are on the hook to pay for whatever is decided — when it’s decided — it is only fair that our leaders in Olympia immediately get down to business, get real and agree to a solution that’s equitable and fair for everyone, not the least being our school-age children.