Article IX, Section 1 of the Washington State Constitution is pretty damn clear:
It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.
“Ample” is not synonymous with “adequate” — it means “more than adequate,” “abundant,” “liberal” or “copious.” And a “paramount duty” is one that is “chief in importance or impact”… “above others,” and “superior in power or jurisdiction.”
Attorneys might semantically nitpick over the subjective meanings of these words, but us normal folks understand that when our per-student education funding ranks amongst the lowest in the nation, our state can’t possibly be living up to the spirit of Article IX, Section 1.
A suit was filed last week challenging the state’s inadequate funding of K-12 education, and I agree with the Seattle P-I editorial board’s assessment:
While it is regrettable that public dollars will need to be spent on lawyers, experts and depositions, it is more important that words in our state constitution have real meaning. The state can’t win this suit. One way to limit legal expenses would be to negotiate a settlement that honors the words and intentions of the state’s founders.
But it is not enough for our state’s editorialists to simply join the civic-minded chorus demanding more education funding. It is time they start laying the groundwork for the type of tax restructuring necessary to assure that the state has the resources to live up to its paramount duty.
Gov. Christine Gregoire’s new budget already provides several hundred million dollars more for education. But even though this is still at least a billion dollars a year short of the mark, her spending “increase” has already generated faux outrage by those who either refuse to, or are incapable of understanding the true nature of our state’s long term structural budget deficit. It’s not state spending that is out of whack — it continues to steadily decline as a percentage of the overall state economy. The problem rather, is the antiquated, early 20th Century hack of a tax system that simply cannot grow revenues at a pace sufficient to keep up with the demands of our post-industrial service economy.
Both the governor’s mansion and the state legislature are controlled by Democrats. Does anybody really believe that the Democrats wouldn’t spend amply on such a popular item as K-12 education if they had the money to do so? For all the recriminations we continue to focus on the wrong end of the problem, and the Democratic leadership is just as guilty as the obstructionists across the aisle.
We need to start having a grown-up, mature and informative debate about tax restructuring. We need to be willing to broach the idea of an income tax without fear of political retribution.
But we’re never going to get that debate unless our state’s editorial pages start leading the way.