Opinion

New State Rep: Prioritized budget plan would fund K-12 education, reforms first

While I am the newest member of the 5th District legislative team, I am no stranger to the education reform and funding debate. As a “PTA dad,” former president of the Issaquah School Board and an original advocate with statewide education groups, reforming education to better serve students has been my top priority.

The goal of our reform efforts has always been to improve our schools through accountability to parents and students, raise the bar on curriculum standards and put children ahead of the adults in the education system. We also fought hard to address how the state funds K-12 education.

These efforts culminated in two key measures that are the blueprint to improve how the state delivers and funds K-12 education, House Bill 2261 (2009) and House Bill 2776 (2010). These bills are the linchpins in the landmark state Supreme Court ruling in the McCleary v. State education funding lawsuit. The Supreme Court’s ruling referenced the bills and upheld the following finding from the lower court ruling:

“…in the context of article IX, section 1, [of the state constitution] ‘paramount’ means the State must ‘amply provide for the education of all Washington children as the State’s first and highest priority before any other State programs or operations.’”

I believe the only solution that will meet the Supreme Court’s directive and put us in compliance with the state constitution is House Bill 1174, or Fund Education First. House Republicans, beginning with my predecessor, former 5th District State Rep. Glenn Anderson, have introduced a version of this proposal since 2006.

Fund Education First, which has bipartisan support, would require the Legislature to craft and pass a stand-alone K-12 education budget before any money is allocated to other programs or services within existing tax collections. It also outlines a plan to phase in the key reforms beginning this two-year budget and completing in the 2017-19 budget.

Additionally, the measure would reprioritize the order in which the 2009 and 2010 reforms are enacted. We put more money in the classroom first by implementing all-day kindergarten and begin funding K-3 class-size reduction in this two-year budget. This change is important because studies show we get the biggest return on investment when we help young students be successful in school before the fourth grade.

Beginning in the 2015-17 budget, the remaining K-3 class-size enhancements and a portion of materials, supplies, and operating costs (MSOC) are funded. The remaining MSOC enhancements and all pupil-transportation enhancements would be funded in the 2017-19 biennium.

House Bill 1174 would take politics out of the classroom. It would force the debate the majority party in the House would like to have with regard to new and higher taxes to focus those tax proposals on programs other than education. Under Fund Education First, the debate would finally shift to a priorities-based budget.

I reject any proposal that would hold our kids hostage to new and higher taxes, which voters have not supported when asked through several statewide ballot measures.

Fund Education First is not the silver bullet to solving the budgeting issues we face. However, it would make for a sturdy cornerstone as we rebuild the foundation of K-12 education and realign our priorities to follow the state constitution and the social contract we have made to protect the most vulnerable and keep our neighborhoods safe.

This bipartisan solution will finally put kids first in our budget and our classrooms. Every child deserves an opportunity at academic success through a modern and properly-funded school system. House Bill 1174 would put us on that path.

Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, is serving his first term in the Washington State House of Representatives. He is the assistant lead member of the House Education Committee, which considers all legislation addressing K-12 education. He formerly served as the elected president of the Issaquah School Board.

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