Comply with court ruling by funding education first

The status quo is unacceptable. This was the message the state Supreme Court sent to the Legislature with its decision in the landmark McCleary v. State education funding case. We agree.

As the Republican education and budget leaders in the state House of Representatives, we believe the only sure way to comply with Article IX of the state constitution and the state Supreme Court is to adopt House Bill 1174, Fund Education First. In fact, House Republicans have tried to remedy the lack of budget prioritization harming students by introducing a version of Fund Education First legislation since 2006.

Again this year, and in light of the clear message sent to the Legislature by the state’s highest court, we introduced House Bill 1174, the updated version of Fund Education First.

The state constitution is clear: Education is the “paramount duty” of the state and should hold a special place at the top of the budget. Fund Education First would fully fund K-12 education first, in a separate budget passed before any other appropriations and within existing revenues. This solution would demonstrate to the court we are taking the matter of following the state constitution and the McCleary ruling seriously.

Specifically, House Bill 1174 would:

 • Fully fund provisions of House Bill 2261 (2009) and House Bill 2776 (2010), the education reform measures – beginning by fiscal year 2014 and completing by fiscal year 2019.

 • Reprioritize the enhancements in the reform bills by fully funding all-day kindergarten ($349 million) and one-half of K-3 class-size enhancements ($575 million) in the 2013-15 biennium.

 • Fund the remaining K-3 class-size enhancements ($576 million), additional 80 instructional hours for grades 7-12 ($211 million), and some materials, supplies and operating costs ($566 million) – also known as MSOC by 2017.

 • Fund the remaining MSOC enhancements ($989 million) and all pupil-transportation enhancements ($232 million) by 2019.

 • Increase the percentage of the budget dedicated to K-12 education from the current 44 percent to 51 percent by 2019.

Our plan would ensure we give our kids the first dollar, not the last dime. Additionally, it reprioritizes the order in which we implement reforms to put money in the classroom first where studies show we will get the biggest return on investment in the form of student achievement.

The majority party in the House will argue that new and higher taxes are needed to fund K-12 education. We reject any proposal that will hold our kids hostage for a tax increase.

The Legislature can fund education first and still pay for public safety and programs and services that protect the most vulnerable within current tax collections, which are projected to increase by roughly $2 billion in the 2013-15 budget. After funding these top priorities of government, any tax increases they would ask the public for would necessarily be for programs not constitutionally protected and not a top priority.

We will produce a budget again this year, despite being the minority party in the House, that shows how to spend based on priorities. House Republicans will lead by example and offer solid solutions that address spending in a way that is compliant with the constitution, compassionate to those in need and careful with public safety.

In addition to this effort, on Feb. 1 we will debate changing House rules. These are rules that govern how the House operates, to include the provision that education must be funded first in the budgeting process.

We hope you will join with us in supporting Fund Education First legislation. Our kids deserve the education promised to them by our state’s founding fathers and past legislatures.

State Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, is the lead Republican on the House Education Committee. Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, serves as the lead Republican on the House Appropriations Committee, which will craft the two-year state operating budget.