Turns out, funding education first actually works

Back in 2012, several Republican legislative candidates and I campaigned on the idea that the state could meet its obligations in the McCleary case by prioritizing education funding first in the state budget. A growing economy, we argued, would fuel rising state tax revenues and,

1) Fully fund K-12 schools without the need for big tax increases,
2) While still allowing the rest of state government to grow, just not by as much as education funding would grow.

There was no magic to this approach, and no budget gimmicks were required. Instead, using a realistic projection of tax revenue growth, we showed that the state could fully fund K-12 public education if the legislature finally prioritized it over other spending.

There was no shortage of critics of our idea. They called our approach unrealistic and wishful thinking. No way could such a plan work, they claimed.

As it turns out, that’s exactly how it’s working. Thanks to leaders like Sen. Andy Hill, the Senate’s chief budget writer, legislative Republicans insisted on putting new state dollars overwhelmingly into education. The result is $1.3 billion toward McCleary compliance and $2.8 billion more in K-12 spending overall, while state college and university tuition is being reduced.

They achieved all this without a large tax increase. The governor and House Democrats called for a billion and a half in new taxes. That wasn’t necessary, as the “fund education first” approach proved. The handful of tax exemptions eliminated this year add up to a modest increase in tax revenue.

To be sure, funding education first has proven to be a much more viable strategy than hoping for big near-term savings from Lean Management – though that remains a useful exercise.

The success of “fund education first” is another example of how “priorities” isn’t just a political buzzword. When leaders stand up for what’s most important, state government can achieve the people’s goals without having to ask them for more taxes.
-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.