Shift’s Newsmaker Interview is with GOP Representative Carolyn Eslick from the 39th Legislative District (East Snohomish and Skagit counties) who is currently serving her fourth term in office. The former Mayor of Sultan is also the founder of GroWashington, a non-profit that offers entrepreneurship training for small business owners. Representative Eslick is a member the House Education and Budget committees and is the Ranking Republican member on the House Human Services, Youth & early Learning Committee.
In her interview, Representative Eslick provides thoughts on her very innovative “Student First” legislation which would give parents ” the resources they need to help their children achieve their dreams.” She states why she opposes the Democrats’ irresponsible legislation which will reduce students instruction time by 4 hours a week. The representative asserts the state has plenty of funds to operate and that now is the time for “meaningful tax relief” to lower- and middle- income households. She provides a few legislative measures she is supporting to improve the state’s ineffective and costly mental health system. Finally, Representative Eslick explains that it is her top priority to improve public safety in the state, and this includes repealing the Democrats’ 2021 disastrous restrictions on police pursuit which nearly every law enforcement agency in the state says is the cause for the state’s high crime rate.
You sponsored the “Student First” bill (HB 1615) which seeks to provide parents more control over their children’s education. Can you briefly explain the legislation and how would it improve education?
House Bill 1615 would allow parents to use their share of state education funds for private or home-based education.
As a state, we have a constitutional mandate to provide every child in Washington a quality education. Unfortunately, that’s not currently happening. Our students’ state and national test scores have been trending downward in recent years.
We know that parents want the best outcomes for their kids, yet they don’t always have the means to set them up for success. This bill would be the first step in giving them the resources they need to help their children achieve their dreams and take advantage of the full range of educational options in our state.
HB 1615 would direct the Washington Student Achievement Council to establish and administer the Students First program, which would fund education savings accounts (ESAs) for individual students.
The program would prioritize ESAs for students eligible for special education services, students whose families are low-income, and those in failing schools. Each ESA is funded based on the amount of money the state allocates per student to public schools to provide basic education. In the first year, students would receive more than $10,600, and students eligible for special education services would receive about $10,000 in additional aid. These funds could only be used for education-related expenses.
Earlier this week the Senate passed SB 5054 (along nearly party lines) which reduces student instruction by four hours a week. What are your thoughts on this legislation?
While I support more professional development opportunities for teachers, I don’t support efforts to achieve that goal at the expense of classroom instruction time. As mentioned previously, our students are already struggling to meet grade level standards in math, science, and English language arts. During the pandemic we saw tragic levels of learning loss, as many students struggled without in-person instruction time. The last thing we should be doing right now is cutting down on the amount of time students have with a certified teacher.
Besides the Student First legislation, how can the state legislature improve the education our children are receiving?
I am supporting Rep. Joel McEntire’s House Bill 1044, which would provide assistance to small school districts in need of capital funding. Some of our small schools in rural areas lack the resources to be able to improve their facilities. This bill would provide an opportunity for these schools to update and repair old buildings, which would improve the learning environment for students regardless of where they live.
I also think efforts, such as Rep. Drew Stokesbary’s House Bill 1003 – which would expand access to dual credit programs – really help prepare our students for success after high school.
One of the top priorities for the 2023 legislative session is passing a two year budget. As a member of the House Budget Committee you are familiar with current discussions taking place. How much larger will the state budget be, and is there any chance the Democrats will agree to any type of tax relief for lower- and middle- income households?
I am a member of the House Capital Budget, which approves money for construction projects, broadband, housing, and other long-term investments. The House Finance Committee, of which I am not a member, focuses on tax issues.
That said, while it’s too early to predict what the final budget will look like, we have not seen any of the tax relief ideas gain traction with the majority party.
With the high revenues the state has collected in recent years, and with record high inflation, I believe now is an ideal time to provide meaningful tax relief to working families. We should be seriously considering broad-based property tax relief, a reduction to the business and occupation (B&O) tax, a reduction to the sales tax, and more. Families are really struggling right now, and the state should do what it can to reduce the high cost of living. I hope we don’t miss this opportunity to help.
There continues to be massive problems with our state’s mental health system. Currently the Inslee Administration is being assessed millions in court fines for not providing court ordered competency treatment for suspected criminals. What needs to be done to improve the state’s performance on this issue?
Staff shortages are a big part of the problem. We need more behavioral healthcare workers. That’s why I am sponsoring House Bill 1763 to boost the ranks of our behavioral health workforce.
The bill would cap the loan interest rate and repayment interest rate for conditional scholarships under the Washington Health Corps at 2%.
I am also supporting House Bill 1580 – a bipartisan effort to address this problem from the start. It would help children admitted to adult hospitals for psychiatric reasons receive the care they need. Some children remain in adult hospitals for years following a psychiatric admission. This bill would help agencies and providers come together more effectively to create a plan of services for children who no longer need to be hospitalized and have nowhere else to go.
Police pursuit remains a hot topic as the Democrats’ 2021 restrictions have caused vehicular theft rates to skyrocket as criminals feel no need to stop for the police. What type of reform would you support?
I support repealing the anti-police restrictions enacted in 2021. Improving public safety is my top legislative priority this year. We must give our law enforcement professionals the tools they need to keep us safe. Thankfully, there is a bill still alive that could address this problem: House Bill 1363. This would restore the old reasonable suspicion standard for vehicular pursuit. This is one critical step we should take this year to curb the recent surge in crime, along with improving recruitment and retention of law enforcement officers and getting repeat criminals off the streets.
For more information on Representative Eslick and to contact her office, please visit her official website.