Lawmaker: Don't get cute with education

Legislators can't get cute with the state's education budget.

That's what State Rep. Skip Priest (R-District 30) told the Federal Way School Board and the audience gathered at Tuesday's board meeting.

"When you start getting cute with education funds," Priest told the board, "you run the risk of becoming unconstitutional. If not now, when are we going to fulfill our constitutional duty?"

Priest lamented that for many years, lawmakers have pushed aside covering the costs of education because it did not fit under the umbrella of basic education. However, a new bill he is sponsoring, House Bill 2261, would add language that would remove the basic education requirement for funding.

"We're not going to say it's not basic education," Priest said. "We won't use that escape hatch. We won't have an excuse not to meet our obligations."

Priest pointed out that by putting money in the education system, especially early, the state would eventually save money later in corrections as well as Department of Social and Health Services.

"The cost down the line is exponentially higher," Priest said.

The budget is in hard shape, he said, and lawmakers let it happen.

"If you budget like it always goes up," Priest said, "that's what you call an $8.8 billion deficit."

That deficit will leave the Federal Way School District an estimated $5 million to $9 million short of the usual state funding.

However, Priest did mention a few funding sources that should bring some one-time stimulus funds to Federal Way schools.

The state is receiving $819 million for K-12 and higher education, $135 million for disadvantaged students, $22 million for special education, $44 million for school improvement and achievement, and $8 million for technical aspects.

Of that funding, Federal Way should receive around $10 million. However, as Chief Financial Officer Sally McLean has told the Federal Way School Board, that funding is one-time-only funding — and using it once just delays the problem. Also, much of the funding is specific in its use, McLean said.

House Bill 2261

House Bill 2261, which was passed in the state House of Representatives earlier this session, received a hearing March 25 in the Senate Committee on Early Learning and K-12 Education.

State Rep. Skip Priest (R-Federal Way) and State Rep. Pat Sullivan (D-Covington) sponsored the bill and testified at the committee meeting.

"To those who say our economic situation is a good excuse to wait on education reform, my belief is we either pay now for a good education for our children, or we pay later in our social services and corrections systems. Now is the time to act and give every child the opportunity to succeed in life," Priest said.

HB 2261 would do several things, according to a press release:

• Redefines "basic education" and restructures the education funding formula;

• Outlines the fundamentals of today's classrooms and allocates state dollars to them;

• Includes early learning for low-income students;

• Phases in all-day kindergarten, starting in high-poverty areas;

• Coordinates initiatives to prepare and recruit math and science teachers; and

• Outlines a path that future Legislatures can use to fund and address issues in the state's education system.

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