Opinion

Funding education means prioritizing

Imagine a state education system that is properly funded, allows local leaders to make decisions that reflect the priorities of their communities, and empowers parents.

We can get there with a change of culture in Olympia.

If our state is going to increase funding for education, it has two options: increase taxes, or re-prioritize and re-direct existing funds within state government.

Option one, raising taxes, should be taken off the table.

Option two is an opportunity for real solutions and leadership in the upcoming legislative session.

So how do we get there?

First, our state must embrace a true priorities of government process that emphasizes education.

Despite what you may hear, education funding has decreased as a percentage of overall state spending.

Forty-four percent of the state’s general fund was dedicated to K-12 education in 1997.

Today, that number is 42 percent. We must make education a bigger priority in our budget.

Second, it is time to fundamentally restructure state programs and services. We must address and contain the cost drivers in our budget.

These are areas that are growing faster than education spending.

Our economic and budget problems have offered state government a great opportunity to re-focus, re-think and restructure, but it has not happened yet.

Restructuring state government begins with identifying programs and services that are not core priorities. After identifying these areas, our state must either eliminate or find ways to deliver them in more cost-efficient ways.

One real solution is eliminating the state monopoly on our workers’ compensation system.

Every minute our state spends on running an insurance company is time and resources taken away from education.

Healthcare spending is another major cost driver in our budget.

Inaction and poor decisions by the Legislature have driven up the costs of healthcare and diverted funding from other priorities.

I have introduced a comprehensive plan to reduce costs and increase access to health care.

If we do this, we will have more resources to invest in education.

Our state must also eliminate many of the unfunded mandates it has placed on school districts. I propose the Legislature create a committee that would identify and get rid of unnecessary mandates that drive dollars out of our classrooms.

Once this committee finishes its work, it should also be eliminated.

There are other simple solutions that could help schools with their finances. For example, our state should stop charging school districts a fuel tax for their buses.

This small step would make a big difference for school budgets.

If we just focus on raising taxes and spending more without reform, like many in Olympia want to do, our state will continue down the path of fiscal instability.

It must also be understood that education funding does not exist in isolation from the rest of our budget process.

Every decision made to expand state government into new areas, or to spend limited tax dollars on non-core functions, takes resources away from education.

In order to put our children first, we must combine a true priorities of government process with a restructuring of state government.

This will allow our state to focus on the areas that are important to Washington’s families.

Now is the time for real solutions and leadership in Olympia.

State Rep. Doug Ericksen (R-Ferndale) represents the 42nd Legislative District.

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