What matters more: Our children's education or their health care?
We shouldn't have to answer this question, but we will if the Legislature can't decide upon how to fund a budget that fully supports our kids.
In 2012, the Washington Supreme Court's McCleary decision delivered in clear terms a message Washington families have long wanted our state government to hear - educating our children is the state's paramount duty. The court was clear that the state is failing our kids, and instructed lawmakers to find "stable and sustainable" funding for the education of every child in our state.
The court's ruling doesn't apply to just some children, or certain school districts - it says that every child is entitled to a good education. That means we need to make sure that kids from every background and every part of the state have an equal chance to learn and succeed.
Having access to a quality education is a fundamental civil right, like free speech or being able to vote. The state has a moral and legal obligation to protect that right. That means the legislature must provide enough funding to make sure that all children have the opportunity to receive a quality education.
To their credit, every legislator in Olympia along with the Gov. Jay Inslee has been working to fulfill the Supreme Court's call to action and find a way to fully fund education in Washington.
All sides have offered sincere ideas for strengthening our schools.
But offering ideas is not the same as offering realistic solutions. As citizens of Washington we have a right to expect that education will be fully funded. But we also must deal with the reality that neither the Legislature nor most Washingtonians will support a budget that eliminates funding for critical services or relies on one-time fixes to increase education funding for a year or two while ignoring the "sustainable" requirement put forth by the court.
When asked to choose between schools or healthcare for their children, most Washingtonians will choose both.
So the Legislature has to be realistic in answering the second question - with our schools in a funding crisis and a state budget already stretched thin, hundreds of millions in tax loopholes for special interests are hard to justify.
Gov. Inslee and the House budget writers have identified a slate of tax loopholes that when closed will provide a significant portion of the funding needed to meet the state's paramount duty. Many of these 650 special interest tax breaks are either outdated or of questionable value.
There is no question about the value generated by improving the quality of the education we offer our children.
For months, leaders in Olympia have looked for ways to fund education and debated the possibilities. The time for debate is over. With the special session now underway, it is time to act decisively and meet our obligation to the next generation. Parents, teachers, education support professionals, principals, school administrators and school boards across the state are united in urging the Washington Legislature to comply with the McCleary decision and fully fund the public education all students deserve.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Joanna Nesbit is a Bellingham Public Schools parent. She wrote this in collaboration with education advocates including Shirley Potter, Bellingham Education Association president; Tracie Morris, Ferndale Education Association president; Bellingham Public Schools Superintendent Greg Baker; and Mary Kanikeberg, principal at Vista Middle School in Ferndale.