First day of session exposes divide on education funding, but leaders remain optimistic.

Yesterday morning we wrote that the first day of the 2017 session began with lack of agreement on a funding plan to satisfy the state Supreme Court’s education ruling. We posted before the education funding task force held its final meeting Monday morning.

In a classic lead, Melissa Santos reports on the meeting.

When it comes to the main challenge state lawmakers face this year, they can’t even agree to disagree.

She continues,

So divided were the eight lawmakers on the task force that they didn’t even adopt a final report to sum up their seven months of work, which involved analyzing school-funding issues that have landed the state in contempt of court.

Despite the apparent deadlock, there’s a lot of time left and reason for optimism, at least according to those who should know. Santos writes, 

During opening ceremonies marking the start of the session, legislative leaders said they are confident lawmakers can find solutions this year, despite the impasse on the school-funding task force that met earlier in the day.

“We are going to be faced with some challenges this year,” said House Minority Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish…

“This year, we must get the job done,” House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said during his opening remarks Monday.

And TJ Martinell writes in The Lens,

In an email, Inslee’s Deputy Communications Director Tara Lee wrote that “generally, we understand that this is a difficult challenge and that the caucuses among themselves will need to come to consensus internally on this.”

“Obviously, the sooner they can start on this process, the better, but it is the very start of session and we know that we can get this done,” she added.

Despite the task force impasse, some state officials are nevertheless optimistic. That includes new State Superintendent of Education, Chris Reykdal. A representative speaking on his behalf at the January 9 meeting told task force members that “although there are some that kind of question it…we think you’re going to get there.”

Also unfazed is Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler (R-9). 

Optimism is probably the best way to approach resolution to what has been an enduring and seemingly intractable problem. Without agreement on a funding target, it’s difficult to put together a plan to hit the mark. Martinell’s article helps put in perspective the size of the gap,

Democrats on the panel unsuccessfully attempted to approve a report containing their proposal on how to fully fund education. That plan calls for $7.3 billion in new basic education spending over the next four years, and a variety of new taxes.

Republicans chose not to endorse a number. And the Democratic plan, which is similar in many respects to the governor’s proposal, includes tax options many Republicans oppose.

The Democratic task force members’ proposal includes new revenue sources to consider:

  • Creating an income tax on capital gains
  • Increasing the state property tax
  • Creating a carbon tax
  • Increasing the state business gross receipts tax (B&O).
  • Closing existing tax incentives

As a further indicator of the magnitude of the challenge, the Seattle Times editorial board urges lawmakers to look beyond the budget

If Washington children are going to get a world-class education that prepares them for meaningful careers, lawmakers must budget with the state’s values in mind, not just for K-12, but also for preschool through college.

The editorial reviews the arguments, concluding,

All of these programs, from preschool through high-school guidance counselors, will improve graduation rates and move more kids along the path toward the jobs of the future. Lawmakers should find a way to pay for the best of these good ideas in Olympia and then put guard rails in place to ensure the money they budget for new programs goes where it’s intended.

And don’t forget higher education. More money is needed for the State Need Grant, which helps low-income students pay for college. More than 24,000 students are eligible for these college scholarships but don’t get them before the fund runs out of cash. Washington state also needs to spend more for higher education so the state’s colleges and universities have space for every state student who is ready and interested in continuing their education.

Right now, the scope is immense. Budget realities have a way, however, of sharpening the focus.