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empty-classroomIt seems that Washington’s voters are largely supporting Initiative 1351 in the polls–the initiative that would require the Legislature to direct more money into classrooms to reduce class sizes.

Most seem to agree this Initiative sounds great on paper, but there is no funding mechanism included, which means that, if it passes, the state would suddenly owe billions more for K-12 education.

It turns out that, although the public seems to support the measure, the political divide over it is a little abnormal.

The measure is backed by the Washington Education Association, of course.  But many labor, business and other groups express concern about the effect of this Initiative on other state spending, though no one seems to want to mount a campaign against it.  Here’s an excerpt from a Seattle Times opinion piece by Erik Smith:

Every interest with a stake in state spending stands to lose if the measure passes – social services, higher education, health care and even the public-employee labor unions that are counting on a cost-of-living pay raise next year. Social-service advocates say privately they are torn because they have traditionally been allied with the teachers’ union. Even if they were to begin speaking out, says a lobbyist talking on condition of anonymity, “what would we say? That we shouldn’t spend money on more teachers because it would take money away from programs for homeless people?”

Every daily newspaper editorial board has rejected the Initiative.  Beyond that, legislators of both parties are opposing it–even Sen. Jamie Pedersen from Seattle spoke up against the measure in a meeting of the 43rd District Democrats.

So we are left with one key question:

Do Washingtonians want to pass a measure with billions of dollars required to fund it and, if so, what other programs will have to be cut, or what taxes will have to be raised?

It remains to be seen what the voters choose.

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SteyerLast year, liberal San Francisco billionaire Tom Steyer spent over $400,000 in Washington’s 26th District trying to influence the special election for that State Senate seat.

Democrat Nathan Schlicher had been appointed to the State Senate and was being challenged by Republican Jan Angel, a State Representative.  Steyer put all his eggs in Schlicher’s basket, but ultimately wasn’t able to sway the results of that election.

He’s back again.

We learned last week that Steyer dumped another 1 million dollars into Washington with the purpose of helping Democrats win the State Senate.

The news media has compared Steyer’s influence and style to the Koch brothers, conservative billionaires who pour out-of-state money into elections such as Oregon’s U.S. Senate race.

But the difference here is that Tom Steyer’s agenda is closely aligned with Governor Jay Inslee’s, including support for low carbon fuel standards, which could cost Washingtonians $1.17 more per gallon at the pump, and other environmental regulations.

We don’t know yet where Steyer will spend his money.  There are several races where he may try to play.  We will keep you up-to-date as we learn more information.

If you’d like quick updates from Washington Focus, you can follow us on Twitter!

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On Wednesday, all sides in the ongoing McCleary court case will face each other at the Washington State Supreme Court.

Here’s a quick refresher:

The McCleary decision was made by the State Supreme Court in January, 2012.  The ruling was that the State has “not complied with its Article IX, section 1 duty to make ample provision for the education of all children in Washington”.

Essentially, the Supreme Court demanded that the Legislature put more money into K-12 Education.

In response, the Legislature did.  Under the leadership of the new Senate Majority Coalition Caucus, about $1 billion in additional funding was added in 2013.  The Spokesman-Review picks up the rest of the story:

This January, the court said it wanted a plan on how the Legislature would handle the rest of the job. But with Democrats firmly in control of the House and a predominantly Republican coalition in charge of the Senate, legislators couldn’t agree to the next round of changes, and essentially told the court that in April.

The coalition of families, community groups and education organizations who won the earlier ruling asked the court to find the Legislature in contempt and impose some sanctions that were threatened when the orders first came down  which could include the justices taking over the budget process. The court ordered all sides to show up Sept. 3 to make their best case on why sanctions should or should not be handed out.

So that’s where we are: all sides in this case will face off on Wednesday.

What Do You Think?

While it’s probably safe to say that the original McCleary decision has helped lead to increased funding and reforms for K-12 education, there are many who are at least a little squeemish about the Supreme Court setting any kind of budget policy.

What do you think?

How do you feel about the State Supreme Court determining how to budget tax dollars?

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Last month we wrote a piece about how “union-beholden lawmakers” (the words of a News Tribune editorial) failed our kids and our schools.

The result of the political about-face that we described was that our schools will lose over $40 million a year in federal funds that was dedicated to poor students.  So we asked our readers two questions:

1) Did the Washington Education Association have the best interests of school kids in mind when they pushed lawmakers to take no legislative action, which will result in the loss of the $40 million?

2) Should candidates who receive money from the WEA return it?

The results were clear:

Survey Results 1


Survey Results 2

What do you think?  You can still fill out the survey here >>>

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Last week The News Tribune wrote a scathing editorial titled “Schools didn’t fail; union-beholden lawmakers did“:

A few weeks hence, parents across the state will be getting letters telling them that their children’s schools are failures. The letters — mandated by federal No Child Left Behind law — will be lying.

The failure lies in the Legislature. Specifically it lies with lawmakers — mostly Democrats — who lacked the moral and political spine last spring to buck an unhinged state teachers union and do the right thing for kids.

The compulsory letters are hardly the worst consequence of lawmakers’ failure.

Of far great magnitude is the loss of school districts’ control over roughly $40 million a year in federal Title I funding for poor students. That translates, for example, into an estimated $1.8 million in the Tacoma Public Schools alone. The money will still arrive, but districts may have to use it to buy private tutoring for students or bus rides to other districts.

The back story on this is a little complex.  Essentially, the Washington Education Association switched positions on requiring statewide test data to be used in teacher evaluations.  They were for it, then they were against it and pressured Democratic lawmakers into opposing the requirement as well.

The lack of legislative action on this ended up putting Washington out of compliance with No Child Left Behind.

While the story is complicated, the bottom line is that the Washington Education Association’s bullying has cost our schools over $40 million a year in federal funds for poor students.  On top of that are the frightening letters parents will receive telling them their local schools are failures.

The editorial summed it up well:

Parents shouldn’t blame their schools for the letters. They should blame lawmakers who dared not fail a patently foolish union litmus test, even at the expense of the state’s schoolchildren.

What Do You Think?

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