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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion

With schools in crisis, GOP leaders need to step up

By Sen. Sharon Nelson For The Spokesman-Review

Last week, in the midst of subfreezing temperatures, a school in Fife, Washington, had to close because it didn’t have heat. A year and a half ago, lead was found in the water at Tacoma public schools – something that particularly affects brain and nervous system development in children. And in a statewide listening tour just over a year ago, we heard a dad from Eastern Washington describe driving hundreds of miles each week so that his child can attend special education classes in Spokane that were unavailable in their hometown.

These crises in our schools have not gone unnoticed – at least not by most people. Yet in a Jan. 7 op-ed for The Spokesman-Review, the Republican majority leader in the state Senate, Mark Schoesler, said advocates have “created an illusion of a crisis in public schools.” To parents, students, educators and lawmakers working tirelessly to address these crises, Schoesler’s words are extremely concerning. I would guess they are especially concerning to the dad from Eastern Washington who spoke at the listening tour since he is from Ritzville – Schoesler’s hometown.

In his op-ed, Schoesler claimed public school advocates are using kids as a cover to secretly push through a state income tax. This, of course, is the favorite distraction of state Republicans who are trying to undercut Democrats’ real funding ideas, which include closing loopholes for corporations and the wealthy, taxing polluters and making changes to the unpopular B&O tax.

The only ones talking about a state income tax are the Republicans, likely because their ideas for school funding so far will hit working and rural families the hardest. They’ve suggested a massive property tax hike for over 2 million homeowners across Washington, and advocate to ignore the agreement made with state troopers, home care workers and others to raise their wages. They’ve also proposed a constitutional amendment to relinquish the state’s responsibility to equitably fund education altogether.

As the final legislative session gets underway before the education funding deadline, we have yet to see a substantive education funding proposal from legislative Republicans. The governor released one in December and we – House and Senate Democrats – released ours last week, following seven months of work in the Education Funding Task Force.

Despite Schoesler’s denial of a problem, Democrats expect Senate Republicans to come out with a comprehensive proposal. It is likely they will suggest paying for modest increases in starting teacher salaries and local levy fixes through property taxes and cuts to programs like foster care services, as well as any increases in revenue from the budget forecast, marijuana money and a restructuring of the funding system. Whatever their proposal looks like, I welcome them into the discussion. The sooner the better, too, so we can get down to work negotiating a final bipartisan agreement.

And if Republicans don’t start taking this seriously and come out with a proposal, Schoesler and his members can explain to kids in Fife and Tacoma and Ritzville how this isn’t a crisis.

State Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, is the Senate minority leader.

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