James Thomas

Education Funding

I had an interesting conversation with some wonderful folks from WEA (Washington Education Association) on June 19.  We talked about a lot of issues related to education and through all the subjects we touched on ran the thread of money.  Quality education is not cheap education.

We talked about enrichment programs, we talked about teacher pay, we talked about the importance of mental health resources within the schools.  I was asked about my priorities for this program or that one.

My answer back was simple: those priorities need to be set by educators working with administrators, not by legislators.  Few legislators have the expertise – the competence – to set those priorities. The job of legislators in this regard is to raise and appropriate the necessary funding.  Of course legislators can’t give educators a blank check. There will always be more legitimate wants and needs than dollars to fund them. That simple fact reinforces the imperative that educators who have first-hand knowledge are the people best suited to setting priorities for how the available money should be spent.

We also talked about inequality in educational funding.  A good deal of school funding comes from property taxes and public schools in wealthy areas often have much greater resources than schools in impoverished areas.  I would like to explore a program akin to the “luxury tax” that forces wealthy sports teams to share some of that wealth with teams in smaller, poorer markets. We are obliged by our state constitution to “make AMPLE provision for the education of ALL children” and need to honor that in deed rather than only in word.

The “secret” to guaranteeing robust funding for education is to tell a clear and compelling story of our schools delivering good value for the tax monies invested.  Many of our European OECD peers have much higher total taxes than do we in the US. When one talks to Swedes or Danes or Germans, they will complain a little about their tax rates but then almost invariably turn to telling you about the excellent programs that their tax money buys them.  Washingtonians will invest in quality education. We need to reinforce the high return on investment that their taxes produce. Educators need to devise scientifically sound metrics to assess schools and meaningful programs to bring under-performers up to par. Those metrics, the results, and the efforts to improve need to be clearly communicated to voters in a spirit of partnership that recognizes that we are all working effectively to reach a common goal.

For State Representative, 35th District Position 1
Education Funding