Opinion editorial by Rep. Terry Nealey: Funding education first – Our paramount duty

The Washington State Constitution says: “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” According to Webster’s Dictionary, “paramount” means “superior to all others.” In other words, “first!”

Unfortunately, the Legislature has not always put education first. Money for Kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12) schools comes from the state’s general fund – the same fund which pays for nearly all other state programs, with the exception of transportation, and capital construction projects, each of which have their own separate budgets.

Every two years when the Legislature meets to craft a state operating budget, K-12 education is forced to compete against non-education programs, departments and agencies for the same dollars in the general fund. Legislative budget writers have often used this as a political game, funding the other needs of state government first, and then using remaining dollars for education. When those K-12 dollars are short, they come to you, the taxpayer and say, “we need higher taxes to fund education. It’s for the children. Let’s not shortchange their future!”

In January 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled the state is not living up to its constitutional duty to fund basic education. In December, a local newspaper asked the question, how is “basic education” defined? That’s been a huge challenge for the Legislature, because basic education means different things to different people. But there’s another point the high court made. It said, “’paramount’ means the state must amply provide for the education of all Washington children as the state’s first and highest priority before any other state programs or operations.”

If we are to properly fund education, we must take the politics out of it. We should never hold children hostage for tax increases. That’s why I support a plan by House Republicans to fund education first!

Fund Education First would require the Legislature to pass a separate, K-12 education budget before any other state appropriations. This would remove education from competing against other agencies for the same dollars and ensure it is properly funded each budget cycle.

Our plan would increase education funding by $903 million in the 2013-15 budget cycle. This would include these increases:

  • $302 million for K-3 class-size reduction;
  • $229 million to expand all-day kindergarten in 61 percent of the school districts;
  • $158 million for increased instructional hours for grades 7-12.
  • $128 million for materials, supplies and operating costs.

None of these increases would require a tax increase. That’s because we prioritize funding in the budget so that education gets the first dollar, not the last dime.

Our proposal includes more than funding. It comes with comprehensive reforms and accountability to ensure children are getting the best education possible. I invite you to read our plan at: houserepublicans.wa.gov.

Washington’s constitution says education it should be “paramount” or “first.” It’s time we live up to our duty to fund education first – not just because it’s in the constitution – or because the state Supreme Court says we must, but to ensure every child in Washington receives the best opportunity to learn and succeed.

Editor’s note: Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, represents the 16th Legislative District and is ranking Republican on the House Finance Committee.

State Representative Terry Nealey, 16th Legislative District
404 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
(360) 786-7828 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000