Jay Inslee and his fellow Democrat have attempted to deflect blame for the State Supreme Court’s McClearly decision on Republicans for quite some time now. But, they cannot escape the facts—and their party’s sole responsibility in underfunding public education in our state.
The truth is that Democrats have been underfunding public education and higher education spending for a generation. They have controlled at least one house of the Legislature in 28 of the last 30 years – and had complete control of the Legislature in 14 of those years. A Democrat governor has signed every state budget since 1985. Under these heavily Democrat-controlled budgets, the ratio of education versus non-education spending was 1:2 (in other words, the Democrats’ priority was two dollars for bigger general government for every new dollar of education funding).
On the other hand, Republicans have already proved that simply prioritizing education funding first is a better solution. During the last two legislative sessions, with Senate controlled by the Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC) and Republican leadership, the state budget has prioritized education over non-education spending at a 4:1 ratio for the first time in 30 years. That’s all without raising taxes. The State Supreme Court referred to the change as significant progress.
Yet, despite all the facts, Democrats refuse to accept responsibility. Instead, Democrats choose to play partisan games and cater to the special interests that demand bigger government in return for funding Democrat campaigns (like Jay Inslee’s). In the process, they also continue to damage education in Washington State.
During the 2014 legislative cycle, Democrats in the state Senate delivered a blow to education when they reversed their positions on SB 5246, a bill that protected local control of $44 million in federal education funding. SB 5246 would have required that student test scores be a factor, among as many as the state wanted, used to evaluate teacher performance.
For a time, the bill had bi-partisan support—enough votes from Democrats and Republicans to pass. However, key Democrats buckled under the pressure of the Washington Education Association (WEA) union and voted down the bill they pledged to support (and had even co-sponsored).
As Shift reported, school districts across Washington State felt the impact of Democrats’ reversal when they lost control of $44 million—funds typically allocated to helping low income students achieve success through after-school help. Revealing the WEA’s out-of-touch position on education funding in our state, a union representative told lawmakers that they should not worry about the possible loss of control over $40 million because school districts have a “huge amount of money.”
Republican State Senator Steve Litzow said that, by refusing to accept using student test scores as an aspect of teacher evaluations, “the adults put their interests above the children.” Certainly, it was just a recent example of what Democrats have demonstrated for the last 30 years—they are not willing to prioritize education over their own special interests.
Inslee further demonstrated this trait when he refused to take a stand on the WEA’s money-grab initiative, I-1351. As Shift reported, our green governor waited until after the voters cast their ballots to inform the public that he did not vote for the I-1351—a weak way to take a stand in itself. Of course, the WEA managed to narrowly pass Initiative 1351 under the guise of smaller class sizes. In reality, if it remains in effect (Inslee has said he believes it should), I-1351 promises to add millions of dues dollars to the WEA’s war chest and gain control of the Legislature’s purse strings. It is a stunning detriment to achieving education reforms and funding—the News Tribune went as far as to accuse the WEA of “malicious mischief.”
Last month, the Washington State Democrats urged public support for Inslee’s $39 billion budget by claiming education spending is its centerpiece. Inslee made a similar claim, stating that his plan prioritizes education. Of course, the claim that education—particularly meeting the McCleary Decision—is Inslee’s first priority is false for the simple reason that he proposes tax hikes to pay for it. But, there is another, perhaps less obvious reason.
When the court handed down the McCleary decision, it ordered lawmakers to “stop relying so much on local levy dollars to pay for basic education.” In fact, as the Associated Press reports, every legislative session since the court’s 2012 McCleary decision has featured a discussion of the topic of levy reform — yet it’s a topic Inslee ignored in his education plan. Inslee’s failure to address levy reform led Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn to claim that the plan—a plan Inslee claims prioritizes education—pushes the state “toward a constitutional crisis.” Instead of taking a stand on the issue, Inslee has—once again—pushed all responsibility on the Legislature.
Dorn’s statement sums up Democrats’ relationship with education for the last 30 years. By refusing to prioritize education, Democrats managed to push the state toward a constitutional crisis—the McCleary decision – all while blaming Republicans for the problem.