The headline in the Seattle Times sounds awfully hopeful, “Wash. lawmakers take next step toward ed reform.” So what exactly is that next step?
They haven’t found a single new dollar to pay for their ideas, but state lawmakers and education officials are pushing ahead with plans to start implementing education reform.
A new education reform committee recently held its first meeting. It is chaired by the superintendent of public instruction and counts among its members the speaker of the House and the chair of the Senate Education Committee, so the political will to move on is there.
No money to pay for their ideas, or any idea how to raise the money, but at least they started a new committee. Can’t get much bolder than that.
But some of the faces around the table have sat at similar meetings, battling similar issues for years.
Oh. That’s not an encouraging sign.
First came the governor’s Washington Learns task force that published an ambitious plan to improve education in 2006. That report led to the state’s new Early Learning Department, but the Legislature could not find the money to implement most of the other ideas.
There’s that pesky money problem again.
Then came the reinvented State Board of Education, which moved ahead on some related ideas, including new high school math requirements and a proposal to require high school students to earn 24 credits instead of 19 to graduate.
Next, the Basic Education Finance Task Force, wrote a road map last summer for completely changing the way the state distributes its education dollars. The task force’s ambitious plans would cost an estimated $3 billion to $4 billion a year, on top of the $7 billion a year the state already spends on education.
And the money…?
The 2009 Legislature adopted some of the task force’s ideas and put a new group, the Quality Education Council, in charge of implementing the plan, but with a new twist. This time, the task force is also in charge of finding the money to pay for the changes.
Rep. Skip Priest, R-Federal Way, has sat around many education reform tables, including Washington Learns and the Basic Education Finance Task Force.
“I think it’s time we have a sense of urgency about this issue,” Priest said after the Quality Education Council held its first meeting at the end of August.
No shit, Sherlock.
Honestly, there is no substantive education reform without the money to pay for it, and all the committees and commissions in the world won’t change that. So in a state facing its deepest fiscal crisis perhaps ever, and a long term structural revenue deficit as far as the eye can see, the real “next step” to education reform in Washington state is an honest debate about tax restructuring, and unless Republicans like Skip Priest are willing to push for that debate, they really aren’t approaching education reform with any sense of urgency at all.
I’m just sayin’.