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Education funding task force hears calls for state income tax

August 3, 2012
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A newly formed task force to develop funding solutions for basic education in Washington met for the first time on Friday and was confronted with calls to impose a state income tax.

It didn’t take long for the state’s new Joint Task Force on Education Funding to start hearing demands that Washington impose an income tax in order to generate more revenue.

“It’s just really important that we address the revenue, the model and the outcome,” Ramona Hattendorf, government relations director for the Washington State Parent-Teacher Association, told the task force at its very first meeting at Highline College in Des Moines on Friday morning.

“We need additional revenue to construct a model that ensures the outcome we’re after,” she said. “We desperately need a stable funding source that’s distributed in an equitable manner.”

“I’m concerned about a system that relies primarily on sales taxes to generate revenue for education,” added Ben Rarick, executive director of the Washington State Board of Education. “In good times, when people are spending and the money is rolling in, we’re able to do the things we need to do. But when there’s a recession, how do we tell a second-grader he was born a year too early or too late to get as good an education as someone else?”

Rarick said relying on a sales tax rather than an income tax put an unfair strain on families already struggling to buy those commodities being taxed.

“The last thing I want to see,” he said, “is a system in which the kids who are most vulnerable aren’t getting what they need because we’re trying to balance funding for the system on their backs.

“It isn’t simply a question of getting more funding,” Rarick said. “It’s how you get it that counts.”

The joint task force, created in House Bill 2824, which was approved by this year’s Legislature, is charged with developing recommendations for funding basic education enhancements included in legislation previously enacted.

The move was in response to a state Supreme Court ruling last year that Washington was falling short of its requirement to pay for what the constitution considers the state’s “paramount duty.”

“The need for identifying reliable and realistic funding solutions for our schools is a top priority,” Gov. Christine Gregoire said when the task force was formed. “Our work must continue to meet the needs of our students who will enter an increasingly demanding and competitive marketplace.”

Under the legislation, the joint task force is charged with:

• developing a proposal for a reliable and dependable funding mechanism to support basic education programs;
• making recommendations on how the Legislature can meet the requirements of HB 2261 (2009) and HB 2776 (2010), under which the Legislature committed to state basic education funding enhancements;
• identifying state budget reductions or eliminations to fund K-12 enhancements if the task force recommendation contains no new revenue; and,
• considering specific transitional bilingual program recommendations.

On Friday, the group met for the first time to flesh out the details of how it will go about accomplishing those goals.

“We’ve got only four and a half months to solve a problem the state has been facing for decades,” said Task Force Chairman Jeff Vincent, a Washington State Board of Education member and chief executive officer and president of the Laird Norton Co. “We have to be very thoughtful and very nimble in what we come up with.”

Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina), suggested the board first needed to determine what it needed, then decide how best to generate the money to pay for it.

Republican Gary Alexander, from Olympia, countered that the emphasis should be placed on student outcomes.

“We need to figure out where we’re going before we start talking about how to get there,” he said.

Vincent concurred.

“If we’re simply talking about investing more money in the system,” he said, “we need to have a candid conversation about what we expect to get out of it.”

The task force will meet roughly every three weeks, with the next meeting tentatively scheduled for the last week of this month.

 

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