Legislative leaders: Education funding is top priority

By | January 10, 2013 | Comments

Lawmakers and state education leaders on Thursday agreed all options are on the table to fund education when the Legislature convenes Monday.

The panel of leaders answered questions from the state’s press corps this morning during the annual Associated Press Legislative Preview.

Randy Dorn, Rep. Ross Hunter, Chris Korsmo, Sen. Steve Litzow

Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina) and Sen. Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island) said lawmakers are tasked with finding about $1 billion this legislative session for a down payment for public education in the state, as directed by the McCleary Decision.

The lawsuit brought by a coalition of school districts, parents, teachers and community groups gives the state until 2018 to fund education fully.

“We need to put more money in the system but we don’t have unlimited money so we have to do something different,” Hunter said.

Chris Korsmo, CEO of the League of Education Voters, said the 2013 Legislature has a moral imperative to improve the state’s education landscape.

“We need to look at what works and follow the lead of those districts that succeed,” Korsmo said.

Funding school transportation and ensuring access to full-day kindergarten were among schools chief Randy Dorn’s priorities for the legislature.

“We know the solutions to many of the problems but we don’t have the resources,” Dorn said.

Lawmakers were short on specifics on how the legislature will bridge the funding gap, but agreed a levy swap proposal merits more discussion.

The proposal’s intent is to reduce the reliance on local levies by increasing the state property-tax levy for schools, while reducing school levies by the same amount.

“The core concept of the levy swap has to be on the table,” Hunter said.

Senate Democratic leader Ed Murray said the key to education funding will be bridging the opportunity gap.

“When the poverty changes, the results change,” Murray said.

The panel also agreed the legislature must act on the state’s troubled prepaid tuition program.

The Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program is facing a shortfall due to rising tuition costs and many lawmakers have suggested ending the program.

“The option of killing it is challenging because of funding. We are stuck now because there’s long tail that you have to deal with,” Hunter said.

Sen. Rodney Tom, who is expected to be named the Senate Majority Leader by the GOP-led coalition, also suggested that the GET program should be cut, saying there are plenty of private 529 college savings programs.

“We have a $631 million hole from that program,” he said. “We didn’t need to be in that line of business.”

Watch the education panel below:

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