Thursday, May 30, 2013

WSPTA to Senate: Fund education before reducing revenue

To: Senate Ways and Means Committee
Re: May 31 public hearing on SB 5939, Concerning the estate tax; WSPTA opposes

Dear Chairman Hill and committee members,

A year and a half ago the Washington State Supreme Court clarified “paramount duty” as the state’s “first and highest priority.” That duty is to amply fund education for all children living in Washington.

Our courts concluded “ample” means “considerably more than just adequate or merely sufficient,” and the supreme court went on to rule that the state consistently falls short of even the lower bar. In its McCleary decision, the high court ruled the state must fully fund “basic education” with “stable and dependable state sources.”

Senate Bill 5939 is a revenue-reducing effort; its stated purpose is to provide tax relief to select individuals. It is a distraction from your first and highest priority and passage of it will hinder your ability to comply with the court and fund our schools, and more importantly fulfill your promises to over a million children.

The estate tax was upheld in 2006 with a supermajority of the popular vote, a revenue rarity in Washington. Washington State PTA joined that supermajority and opposed efforts to repeal the tax. With more than 70 percent in favor, voters in another citizen initiative, I-728, told the state to invest in students. The bill before you today runs counter to both citizen initiatives.

In 2009, the legislature pledged funding for an improved program of basic education that gives all children the opportunity to complete college- and career-aligned graduation requirements. That meant investments in preschool and the early grades as well as investments in middle and high school so all children would have access to enriching and rigorous classes that would prepare them to transition into work, training or college. You promised to implement and fund this program by 2018, but so far this session you have offered no map of how you are going to pull it off. In particular you are quiet on the career- and college-aligned graduation requirements.

What does all this mean in lay terms? Here are just two examples:
  • It means a lot kids who could handle algebra in middle school don’t have access because schools are stretched too thin. This in turn directly affects what programs they have access to in high school and what colleges and training programs they will be competitive for after high school.
  • It means a musician has to decide between four years of orchestra, OR science, OR math – because you can’t fit it all into a six-period day. And by the way the state only pays for about five periods.

Even when the state double dips and relies on local excess levies to cover a school day, students don't get what they need.

The citizens have voiced their preferences on the estate tax and the need to invest in education; they have done so in the supermajority numbers this chamber prefers. Meanwhile, timely implementation of your promised K-12 funding reform remains uncertain. You have only five years left and are billions shy. Please do not consider limiting revenue until you have met your paramount duty to fully fund the program of basic education.

all children means “each and every child” in Washington – “no child is excluded” (McCleary, 2012)
education means “the basic knowledge and skills needed to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in this state’s democracy” (McCleary, 2012)
“The State has failed to meet its duty under article IX, section 1 by consistently providing school districts with a level of resources that falls short of the actual costs of the basic education program.” (McCleary, 2012)
“The legislature defines the program of basic education under this chapter as that which is necessary to provide the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to meet the state-established high school graduation requirements that are intended to allow students to have the opportunity to graduate with a meaningful diploma that prepares them for postsecondary education, gainful employment, and citizenship.” (ESHB 2261, 2009, Session Law)
"The legislature intends that the redefined program of basic education and funding for the program be fully implemented by 2018." (ESHB 2261, 2009, Session Law)

- Ramona Hattendorf, Government Relations Coordinator, Washington State PTA

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