The state Supreme Court ruled that the state wasn't meeting its obligation under the Constitution to fully fund basic education, and it gave the state until 2018 to do so.
How should the legislature do it?
Candidates for the 40th Legislative District senate seat provided different answers in a questionnaire from The Bellingham Herald. The seat is currently held by Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, a former San Juan County commissioner who was first elected to the Senate four years ago. Challengers are John Swapp, a Skagit County business owner who filed as independent/Republican; and Bellingham-area resident Jim Cozad, who listed no party affiliation but is former chairman of the Whatcom Democrats. Cozad works at nonprofit Opportunity Council on poverty and homelessness issues.
The 40th district includes San Juan County and parts of Skagit and Whatcom counties. It includes the southern half of Bellingham and all of Lake Whatcom. The top two candidates in the Aug. 7 primary will move on to the Nov. 6 general election.
"The truth is that we do not have the billions of dollars needed to fund education without taking action to secure a stable source of revenue," Ranker wrote. "We need to close tax loopholes, raise new taxes, while also fixing existing ones such as (the business and occupation tax). I believe that we want an exceptional educational system and therefore we must be bold in reforming our tax system to prioritize education."
Every dollar spent in education pays enormous dividends down the road, Ranker wrote, and to remain competitive in the global marketplace we must remain committed to a strong public school system. K-12 and higher education have taken the brunt of funding hits over the last several years. The budget that the Republican leadership passed cut an additional $43.9 million from K-12 and $30.4 from colleges and universities, he wrote.
"It is crucial to recognize that our schools and universities not only provide a positive and healthy learning environment for our children but also create jobs for thousands of Washingtonians while positioning our state for tomorrow," he wrote.
Cozad wrote that, first, we must quit relinquishing local control of schools to the state and federal governments. The federal No Child Left Behind law is a waste of money, and we've spent billions of dollars grading tests, hiring consultants and comparing schools for sanctions while we've cut physical education, creative and performing arts, applied technology and consumer education just to teach the basics, he wrote.
"Children living in poverty and children of color are still left behind in disproportionate numbers while we still deal with homelessness, hunger, and a drop-out rate around 30 percent," Cozad wrote. "Not good enough."
Economic analyses should be done to determine what it costs each school to run programs, along with a list of future improvements and reform plans, he wrote.
"Then we build a funding formula to cover what it would cost locally," he wrote.
Swapp wrote that the solution is not to simply boost spending.
"I am a big supporter of classroom educators, but I'm not a fan of bloated administrations," he wrote. "The state cannot control its spending habits and every excuse is being offered to continue to increase spending. We need to take a more realistic approach to education funding and direct money into the classrooms that was previously being consumed in administration."
Less than half of school employees are teachers, he wrote.
Swapp also criticized the proposed transfer of 8,700 acres of state-managed timberlands in the Lake Whatcom watershed to the county for use as parkland. Currently, the land is managed to raise revenue for school construction, he wrote.
"It's not clear to me why this is a good decision," he wrote.
He also pointed to land being place in preservation trusts, which takes them off property tax rolls. Vendovi Island in Skagit County was put into an environmental trust, eliminating property taxes from it, including those for schools.
"We are inadvertently harming school funding through these other endeavors, which were done with the best of intentions, but without consideration of all issues," he wrote.
ELECTION NEWS, INFO
Go to bellinghamherald.com/elections for the latest election news and click here for an online voter guide to the Aug. 7 primary. Enter your address to see the contested races you are voting in and compare platforms from the candidates in your districts, including the responses to the questionnaire. You also can share your endorsements on social media.