VIDEO: Sen. McAuliffe on education and funding in Washington
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State Senator Rosemary McAuliffe (1st LD) sat down with the Hawkeye to talk about the current education funding crisis in Washington state. McAuliffe is a ranking member on the Senate Early Education and K-12 Education Committee and is a member of the Senate Higher Education Committee. McAuliffe spoke on several topics in education including the McCleary v. Washington decision, Initiative 1351 and the soaring costs of college education.
The McCleary Decision
Back in 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the decision in McCleary v. Washington, a case focusing on the lack of funding for public education.
The court ruled that the legislature was not meeting its obligation to fully fund education under Article IX, section 1 of the Washington state Constitution.
The ruling said that it is the “paramount” duty of the state to fully fund public education.
More recently, the Supreme Court decided to hold the the legislature in contempt of court for not making enough progress on funding education.
“2018 is approaching and how much have we invested? Less than $1 billion. In order to fully fund basic education as defined, it would cost us between $5 billion and $6 billion.
McAuliffe said she was “very excited” that the court held decided.
“Now it will force the legislators’ hands. I’ve been around for twenty years and I’ve seen the promise to fully fund basic education for 20 years and it has not happened. So now we’ve reached an endgame and I’m very excited about that,” McAuliffe said.
She attributed the lack of funding to several things, including the 2008 downturn of the economy, the slower recovery and a lack of tax dollars to fund education.
McAuliffe noted how several attempts to increase taxes have all been rejected by the voters. She also said that lawmakers are wary of cutting tax breaks for corporations because the fear of losing their business, especially noting Boeing.
She said the conflict is surrounding the Republican majority’s desire to implement more guidelines and policies if more funding is to be allocated for public schools. She said she felt several new testing measures and other regulations were plenty.
“We need to fund what we have promised and not continuously do new things without funding them,” McAuliffe said.
In November, voters will decide to approve or reject 1-351. The measure would require lower class sizes by 2018. The initiative requires an average class size of 17 students from Kindergarten through third grade and no more than 25 students for grades 4 through 12.
McAuliffe said she definitely supports I-1351.
“What I think this initiative will do is send a message to the legislature. It will strongly say that our public, our people, our families believe in small class sizes for our children and our students,” McAuliffe said.
Critics of the initiative worry about the high costs this initiative will bring. The Office of Financial Management (OFM) estimated the measure would cost another $3.7 billion every two years once its fully implemented.
The initiative does not include any tax increases or new sources of revenue.
After two years, the legislature can vote to repeal or change it with 50 percent of the vote.
McAuliffe said, however, that it could potentially be considered as a requirement of fully funding education under the McCleary decision.
She said that part of the problem is the state’s tax code. She has proposed a lower sales tax and making an income tax for “high end earners.”
“That makes the tax system more fair because right now the number people paying the sales tax, those people are families that struggle the most who are paying the highest sales tax and those people who are high end earners are not paying their share. So we do need to restructure the tax system and maybe this will force us to do so,” she said.
The Rise in College Costs
According to get.wa.gov, average tuition rates in Wash. have risen 9.5 percent annually over the last decade.
McAuliffe said she was very concerned by rise in tuition rates.
“What’s disturbing as well is…back in the 90s the state was paying 70 percent of tuition and the student was paying 30 percent. Today the state is paying 30 percent and the student is paying 70 percent,” she said.
McAuliffe said when cuts are needed, they are often dealt to higher education and early education.
She said her bill’s income tax on the high-end earners would lower tuition rates and would fully fund basic education.
University Presidents are also outraged by the rise in college costs.
As the presidents are asked to make budget cuts every year, tuition rates have increased. However, Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard rejected the tradition of cuts, calling it “idiotic.”
He actually asked for a 5 percent increase in funding from the state.
He told the Seattle Times, “If we go through with this you’ll see students start fleeing, faculty taking other jobs. My obligation is to protect the quality of this university, so no, I’m not going along with it.”
McAuliffe said it will take a “grassroots movement” from families and students to send a message to the legislature that education is important.
The soaring rates have led to crippling debt for students. Student debt is now the second highest source of debt in the U.S., only behind home mortgage debt.
“On the higher education committee we hear all the time from students all the time talk about how much they actually have owe in debt, and it’s astounding. Just astounding,” McAuliffe said.
On a final note McAuliffe said, “Families and students ought to rise up and say we’ll support the legislature in its attempt to fund basic education and to do early learning and to help with college tuition. We’ll accept what ever it is. Maybe it will be a high-end [income] tax but they’ve got to help us. It’s got to be a grassroots movement because we can’t do it from the legislature without them.”