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Monday, March 30, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Finally, an education plan to debate

Call it a blueprint, an opening salvo or a trip to Never-Never Land, but Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan to complete the task of fully funding basic education is something.

And that’s better than the nothing that’s been proposed by everyone else.

Yes, lawmakers have poured billions into education in recent years, but the issues of equity and teacher pay were always going to be the hard part.

During the campaign, neither gubernatorial candidate released a detailed plan on how much money to raise and how to raise it. We didn’t come across a legislative candidate with a plan either. Better to keep quiet and bash the court.

The governor’s plan is already being criticized, but remember this: After more than three decades of kicking this can, it’s the first time someone picked it up. Without the Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling, it might’ve never happened.

That’s not to say the governor’s plan will come to fruition. In fact, we’re fairly certain major parts of it won’t. The capital gains tax looks to be a non-starter on the Senate side, where Republicans are in charge. A $20,000 annual increase for starting teachers is a reach. Even a tax on bottled water must face down a powerful interest. In 2010, a fairly small levy on water, soda, candy and mass-produced beer failed to draw Republican support. Then voters repealed it.

The voters just shot down a carbon tax, which is part of the governor’s education revenue package.

On the other hand, the governor suggests capping the lid on local levies at 15 percent, which would give most property owners a tax cut. The Supreme Court has ruled that the state relies too heavily on local levies for education funding. Inslee’s new taxes would backfill the local money school districts would lose.

It’s difficult to gauge the governor’s plan in a vacuum, so we look forward to plans from legislators who have been working on this issue. Only then can anyone evaluate the best way forward.

We could end up with a situation in which a revenue package becomes a voter referendum. In the past, voters have said yes to smaller class sizes (twice) and annual teacher pay increases. It would be interesting to see a vote on the precise ways those wishes would be paid for.

Whatever the outcome on funding, we trust that nobody wants to spend billions more on education without also boosting the quality of education. This is a huge opportunity to work toward a more nimble, responsive education system that isn’t afraid to innovate.

How teacher compensation is bargained should be up for discussion, too. If the state is paying the bills, it ought to be involved in negotiations. Equity is impossible to achieve when salaries are bargained district by district. As state employees, teachers could be given the same benefit choices as other state employees, such as college instructors.

Many people appear to be confused on this point, but the McCleary ruling isn’t about the quality of education. It’s about how it’s financed. The Legislature and governor could satisfy the court without improving schools.

So the public must stay engaged and demand a solid return on this new, considerable investment.

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