Kids First Act is action, not more talk

Sen. Andy Hill of Redmond, the Senate’s budget writer, released an intriguing bill this year that deserves more attention before the 2015 session. Called the Kids First Act, Hill’s bill would tackle the education funding problem by reversing the budget trend we saw in the last 30 years, where 2/3 of the state’s budget growth went to non-education spending.

Some called 2014 a do-nothing session, but legislators notched a few solid accomplishments this year, including a no-new-taxes supplemental budget, the College and Career Ready high school diploma, and the second year in a row of flat tuition at state universities.

Many of the larger questions, though, were put off until next year. On transportation, electoral considerations prevailed and no package was passed. On that and other issues, many legislators were happy to leave matters unresolved in hopes that November’s election will deliver them new colleagues more to their liking.

We did see previews this year, in small-scale skirmishes, of next year’s looming fight over the budget, tax increases, and education funding. Governor Inslee and legislative Democrats want tax increases to keep general government growing even as they struggle to meet the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision to fully fund education. Republicans believe McCleary can be satisfied by devoting most of the budget growth to K-12.

It’s not hard to figure out why the state is in this mess, faced with a court edict to fully fund schools. For the last 30 years, legislators and governors talked about putting education first, but invested the state’s growing budget in other areas. 2/3 of state budget growth went to non-education funding, even as office holders made solemn election time pledges that education was their #1 priority.

That’s where Hill’s Kids First Act comes in. It would require that, as the state budget grows, 2/3 of that growth would be devoted to “K-12 education, early learning programs, and higher education” for 10 years. That would allow our education spending to catch up after decades of putting other priorities first.

Hill’s proposal takes the education funding conversation out of the realm of vague promises and fuzzy notions. The bill would actually require legislators to put their money where their mouth is. If education is really their #1 priority, they could prove it by devoting the bulk of state budget growth to it so we can meet our obligation to our schools.

That’s why some people in Olympia are going to hate it. They’re happy keeping the promises vague.

— Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.