This commentary will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
Again this year, The News Tribune’s editorial board has identified what we believe should be fundamental priorities for Washington state, this region and our communities.
The agenda below reflects the values and concerns that will guide our commentary through 2013.
At the top is education. With Washington’s economy recovering from five years of distress, this state should finally be able to invest more in its public schools and colleges. The state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision is more than enough reason to expand the opportunities we owe our children and grandchildren.
Our 2013 civic agenda:
Public education needs a radical rethinking this year.
For decades, the Legislature has been evading its responsibility to fully fund the state’s schools, expanding other programs while forcing school districts to rely on local levies to pay for such basics as textbooks, school nurses and bus drivers.
That’s got to stop, said the Washington Supreme Court last January in its landmark McCleary decision. The court demanded that the Legislature comply with the Washington Constitution, which states that “ample provision” for basic education is the “paramount duty of the state.”
Nor does basic education consist of harried teachers in overcrowded classrooms. As common sense and the court defines it, “ample” means far more the bare bones. Every child, even in poor school districts, must be offered the high-end academic skills needed to succeed in a complex, technology-intense world.
This means the Legislature must appropriate hundreds of millions of dollars more per year to the K-12 system. That’s going to require some very tough choices in Olympia, probably including more taxation.
The Supreme Court has no authority to raise taxes or micromanage legislative budgets. Budget-writers are accountable to the voters, which means that the public holds the ultimate power to demand or deny adequate funding for schools.
The public understands that simply dumping more money in an underperforming school system will produce only a more expensive underperforming school system. But Washingtonians can be persuaded to invest more in the system if they see greater accountability in their schools, high academic standards, and science-based teaching and administrative practices.
Voters will pay for results. They won’t pay for the status quo.
PRESERVE HIGHER ED
College opportunity doesn’t fall under the constitutional definition of basic education, but few students will find success in tomorrow’s economy without vocational or academic training beyond high school.
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