Author Archives: Laudan Espinoza

Fix Hirst ruling while work toward McCleary agreement continues

By Laudan Espinoza | Published on February 10, 2017

It obviously has not been easy for lawmakers to come up with legislation that fixes the constitutional issue about school levies raised in the McCleary ruling, treats students and taxpayers in 295 diverse districts equitably and responds to long-standing compensation concerns from teachers and district officials. If it was, the Education Equality Act passed by the Senate more than a week ago wouldn’t still be all by itself on the negotiating table.

Fortunately, another Supreme Court decision looming over our state – the Hirst ruling, from October – is easier to fix than McCleary. There’s no good reason why we can’t have an agreement in place as soon as the end of February.

To put it simply, Hirst complicates the process of permitting a residential water well, and complications mean more cost – tens of thousands of dollars more, potentially, which discourages people from buying land, and property owners from building or selling. Besides derailing the dreams of families all around our state, the ruling means less activity for local lenders and the real-estate and construction sectors.

I remember how a dozen years ago, without warning, the real-estate and construction sectors got hot and began pouring money into the state treasury. In contrast, there’s been ample warning about the chilling effect Hirst is having in those areas of our economy, and what it means for state revenues.

Our children are still being schooled while work on McCleary proceeds, and whatever agreement we reach won’t have an effect on the current school year anyway. Hirst is different, because fewer homes are being built and fewer property transactions are occurring while the Legislature works on a response. The economic damage has already begun, especially in rural Washington.

I know of two bills in each legislative chamber that would address Hirst. One House bill and one Senate bill have bipartisan sponsorship – and in my opinion, represent the straighter path to a solution. The bipartisan Senate bill has already won committee support, while the House committee may push both of its measures ahead.

Not many issues hit all 39 counties in the gut the way Hirst has, and a legislative fix could start bringing relief immediately. It could, and should, be the first major bill to come out of this session.

Senate majority presents landmark plan for K-12 funding

By Laudan Espinoza | Published on January 31, 2017

Education Equality Act would make student-centered, teacher-friendly reforms

Senate Majority Coalition Caucus members today introduced landmark reforms that would return state government to the role of primary provider for Washington’s K-12 schools while finally connecting school funding with the actual cost of educating students.

The MCC’s Education Equality Act is the first complete, ready-for-voting solution proposed by lawmakers since the state Supreme Court ruling in McCleary v. Washington. The 2012 ruling highlighted what was already known: decades of putting other services ahead of schools caused Washington’s 295 school districts to rely too much on local property tax-levy money to cover costs that should be the state’s responsibility. The Legislature has until April 1 to agree on a new funding approach that takes effect before 2018.

Sen. John Braun, as chair of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, is the Senate budget leader, and was one of the MCC members to serve recently on a bipartisan Joint Education Funding Task Force. That group managed to obtain educator-compensation information that was denied to lawmakers for more than a year, and was one of the final pieces needed to complete the MCC plan.

Braun said the Education Equality Act would not only result in full state-level funding of public schools but also address factors that have made the K-12 system inequitable for students, teachers and taxpayers.

“Our plan is student-centered and teacher-friendly. It’s based on fair and transparent funding and promotes local control and accountability. By any credible measure, this is a progressive approach that should eliminate the educational-opportunity gap, and the associated social injustices, caused by inconsistent district-level funding,” said Braun, R-Centralia.

“It also responds to concerns teachers have about compensation, and the concerns districts have about hiring as well as the so-called ‘levy cliff.’ These issues are outside of the Legislature’s constitutional mandate but are part of the larger picture, so it makes sense to include them in our set of reforms,” he added.

Under the MCC plan, legislators set a statewide per-student funding level that puts Washington in the upper ranks nationally; require each school district to levy the same local property-tax rate and put that revenue toward the per-student amount; and allocate state funds to cover the difference between the per-student standard and the local funding.

The per-student funding level would be higher, and the state’s contribution would increase accordingly, to cover additional services for children who have special needs, or are homeless, or are not native English speakers.

The benefits of the Education Equality Act, Braun explained, include a consistent state investment in each Washington student regardless of ZIP Code, and an end to wild swings in local school-levy rates – caused by varying property values between districts – which are inequitable to taxpayers and contribute to disparities in teacher pay.

In addition, the MCC proposes ending the statewide pay grid that limits teacher compensation based on service years and education and does not account for the local cost of living. This would allow districts more flexibility and control when it comes to recruiting and retaining teachers.

“The governor and others talk about brand new taxes to pay for schools, even though revenue from an energy tax or a tax on certain forms of income can’t possibly qualify as the ‘regular and dependable’ source the Supreme Court expects,” Braun said. “Our plan relies on a traditional funding source that meets the ‘regular and dependable’ standard set by the Supreme Court, and is familiar to families and employers in our state.

“Making up for decades of inattention and the resulting inequities isn’t easy, but this approach checks all the boxes. It’s sweeping, it’s straightforward, and it’s sensible.”

More praise for the Senate Majority’s education plan

By Laudan Espinoza | Published on January 29, 2017

“The Campaign for Student Success applauds the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus for introducing the Education Equality Act to address McCleary and focusing on student-focused solutions for all students, attracting and retaining great educators and accountability and support for our schools. Student-based funding is a step in the right direction to meet our fundamental challenge of ensuring that our education system gives all students a great education. We’re encouraged that the Senate leadership is focusing on the standards of Funding & Fairness, Talent and Accountability put forth by our campaign. We commend this proposal for driving real legislative progress, and we look forward to working with both sides of the aisle to ensure that solutions meet the need for a long-term, equitable outcome for all students. McCleary presents us with a unique opportunity to change the future for Washington’s kids and we must take action now.”

– Campaign for Student Success

 

“I am very pleased to see this latest legislative plan to address the requirements of the Supreme Court and to continue the Legislature’s progress toward equitable and ample funding for our public schools. This is a creative approach and I now look forward to all parties coming together to work out their differences on behalf of all Washingtonians. We all want our kids and grandkids to have the best education possible. I hope this proposal leads to a productive session that satisfies the McCleary mandates so we can move on to higher education issues.”

– Rich Cummins, Ph.D., President of Columbia Basin College

State School Superintendent Reykdal: Senate Plan Shows Comprehensive Thinking on Education Funding

By Laudan Espinoza | Published on January 27, 2017

The Senate Republican Caucus released details about its Education Equality Act. Below is a statement from State Superintendent Chris Reykdal on the proposal.

Olympia – Jan. 27, 2017 – We’re at a crossroad on education funding. The state Supreme Court has said the state isn’t meeting its Constitutional duty to amply fund basic education. We need solutions to this problem – big, bold solutions.

The Caucus’s proposal shows that Republicans are serious about solving the funding problem and that it understands additional resources will be needed.

The proposal itself is very comprehensive. It would create a guaranteed funding level for each and every student. The level would be enhanced for students in special programs, such as English learners or students in special education or those who are low-income or homeless, recognizing those students’ additional needs. That funding level would be paid for, in part, by a state property tax capped at $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed value.

I appreciate the emphasis on accountability and on providing additional support for underachieving students. Our graduation rates are inching upward. That pace must quicken, though, and paying teachers supplemental contracts for their work with struggling students is one way to achieve that.

I also appreciate the emphasis on teacher recruitment and retention. We have a critical teacher shortage caused, in part, because all teachers need market pay.

In the coming weeks and months we will work with the House and Senate to create a bipartisan solution that improves student achievement, empowers educators and maximizes local control.

Our K-12 plan will be out soon, then we can get this job done

By Laudan Espinoza | Published on January 18, 2017

This week Republican legislative leaders had their first meeting of the session with statehouse reporters. As expected the press corps asked first about education funding – including, when will they see a plan from Republicans to fully fund our K-12 schools?

A freelance writer wondered whether the plan would come in a week or two, or would we “wait until April,” meaning late in the session. The April reference struck me as something I would expect from certain Democrats, not a reporter who is supposed to be objective and professional – so I barked at him, which was out of character.

What I should have said, being a longtime Green Bay Packers fan, was something like the line famously used by Aaron Rodgers, the Pack’s quarterback, when questioned a couple years ago about his team’s production.

“Relax. We’re going to be OK,” Rodgers said. His team, 1-2 at the time, went on to win 11 of its remaining 13 games.

My answer should have been more like this: Our plan will be ready soon — sooner than later. It’s going to be OK. We will get this job done.

Democrat lawmakers put some big-spending numbers and costly concepts on paper via the recently concluded Joint Education Funding Task Force. Some have used that to take we-did-our-homework-you-didn’t shots at Republicans. But completing the homework is not the same as passing the test. When our Senate majority puts its plan on the table, I want it to be a fully baked plan that is ready to pass the test, meaning win a majority vote.

If I wanted to fire back at Democrats, I would remind them how our situation is largely of their party’s making. Democrats controlled the state budget for the better part of 30 years before our Senate Majority Coalition Caucus began leading the Senate in 2013. Their spending choices, which favored non-education things over schools by a 2-1 ratio, created the conditions that led to the 2012 McCleary decision. The MCC-led Senate has flipped that, devoting new revenue to education at a rate of more than 3-1. We have restored K-12 to its rightful place in the budget.

I would also note how, in 2013 and 2015, the governor blocked the Legislature’s request to collect K-12 compensation data. We needed it to understand, in dollars and cents, what “full funding” of education really means. Only because of the education-funding task force do we finally have that information.

Instead, I’ll simply say that Republicans aren’t about to leave schools in the lurch. But we want a solution that lasts indefinitely, and we recognize that the Legislature really has just one chance to get it right.

As I said to the reporters, our plan will be ready when it’s ready. Let me say here that it will be ready very soon.

It’s going to be OK. We’re going to get this done.

Without Dr. King, could we have had Dr. Floyd?

By Laudan Espinoza | Published on January 16, 2017

As we reflect today on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and what he meant to our country, I think about another distinguished African-American leader: my late friend Dr. Elson Floyd, the former Washington State University president who lost his battle with cancer in June 2015.

The “Big Coug” and I didn’t spend a lot of time talking about his childhood, but there were enough anecdotes for me to gather how the segregated South he grew up in as a North Carolina native was very different from our state’s Adams County, where I was brought up.

The Civil Rights Act (and the Voting Rights Act) were passed by Congress, thanks to Republicans, when Elson was still a young boy. Still, changes in culture often lag changes in the law. Although Elson was less than a year older than me, he spoke of having to stay away from certain places – whether the law said so or because he knew better than to be around those places. I can’t imagine what that must have been like.

Elson was raised with a strong sense of family, and while he was athletically gifted as a young man, he was wise enough to put academics ahead of athletics. I respected those qualities and much more about him. But although he worked hard for his academic achievements, education alone does not bring opportunity. To me, it’s because of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. that great leaders like Dr. Elson Floyd were and are able to emerge – and to shine brightly, as my dear friend did. That’s worth commemorating today.

Senators: Thank you for your service

By Laudan Espinoza | Published on January 03, 2017

Legislators leave office for a variety of reasons, and the when and how of their exits generally dictates our options for saying farewell. Sometimes an announcement comes during a session, which allows us to respond in person; otherwise it happens later in the year, and that opportunity is lost. We learned during the 2016 session that a few members of our Majority Coalition Caucus would not be with us in 2017, and that number doubled after the Legislature adjourned. Each of them deserves a public tip of the hat.

  • Senator Don Benton’s close re-election victory in 2012 may not have been the biggest factor in creating the Majority Coalition Caucus, but it was the last piece we needed. His work on protecting property rights and controlling the growth of taxes are well-known; other accomplishments, particularly his efforts on behalf of the homeless and veterans, didn’t get enough recognition. Don served 20 years in the Senate after a term in the House. He had no equal when it came to knowing Senate rules and parliamentary procedure, and that may be what I, as leader, will miss most.
  • Although Senator Bruce Dammeier was in our caucus for just one four-year term, following two terms in the House, his work on K-12 education did much to put the Legislature on track to comply with the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. Bruce also had a gift for translating complex education-policy issues into plain language, and that will be not be easy for us to replace. His leadership potential was evident, and I’m not surprised the people of Pierce County decided to make Bruce their county executive starting today. He will serve them well.
  • Elected in 2000, Senator Mike Hewitt became Senate Republican leader right after the 2006 election reduced us to 17 seats – a low not seen since 1965. During the next seven years, as the Democratic majority ran up state spending during the real-estate boom and then ran up taxes when the boom went bust, the number of Republican senators steadily climbed until it reached 23 and allowed the formation of the MCC in late 2012. Mike set the leadership bar high, and I appreciated his counsel greatly after succeeding him as Republican leader. Good fishing, my friend.
  • One of the biggest benefits of forming the MCC was that it enabled Senator Steve Litzow to become chair of the Senate committee on early learning and K-12 education. He was no one’s puppet, which meant education-policy reformers finally had an even chance of having their views considered. The 41st Legislative District has become a “swing” district if there ever was one, and Steve’s loss in the 2016 general election is no reflection on his six years as a senator. Washington’s students and parents should hope the Legislature continues to follow the course he helped to set.
  • Leading legislative-caucus meetings isn’t easy, with so many personalities in one room, but Senator Linda Evans Parlette did so with grace for 10 straight years, as the Senate Republican Caucus evolved into the MCC. To her, being caucus chair meant looking out for staff as well as members, and made it feel even more like one big family. Linda was a strong voice on health care and natural-resources issues and had enough energy to continue serving much longer – but after 20 years as a legislator (16 in the Senate) her desire to spend more time with her real family won out. Is there a better reason to leave?
  • Her 2014 re-election to a record seventh term made Senator Pam Roach the longest-serving female senator in Washington history. She will be remembered for many things, and they should include her work on behalf of children and families, and public safety, and defense of the people’s right to initiatives and referenda. As an outdoorsman I appreciated her efforts to introduce legislators to the shooting sports. Anyone familiar with Senator Roach’s devotion to her family knows that while being elected to the Pierce County Council meant giving up the 31st District Senate seat, it offered another chance to serve alongside her son Dan (a former state representative who became a council member in 2011). A fair trade, I think.

Thanks to them all!

How far will governor go to keep a great teacher in the classroom?

By Laudan Espinoza | Published on December 21, 2016

According to Governor Inslee, state government has an “obligation” to pour many more billions of dollars into Washington’s K-12 schools. That’s on top of the additional billions budgeted by the Legislature for basic education in the past four years.

“In this day and age, we owe our kids and parents more,” the governor declared on Dec. 13, in the course of unveiling his plan to raise taxes by $8.7 billion. He proposes to steer about half of that new revenue into the K-12 system, where it would go toward providing “a great teacher in the classroom and access to the programs and services we know they [students] need.”

Now lay Inslee’s declarations next to a Dec. 16 report from the non-partisan Washington Policy Center, which found (based on federal statistics) that our state leads the nation in strikes by teachers. In 2015 three of the 12 largest labor disruptions in the nation took place here, in the form of school closures.

Inslee speaks of providing great teachers but not of what he would do to keep them in their classrooms. In this day and age, to borrow his words, aren’t Washington’s kids and parents owed more than a school year disrupted by a teacher strike? How far would Inslee go to prevent a walkout so students don’t lose access, even for a day, to those great classroom teachers and school-based programs and services?

Benge Elementary in southeast Adams County, a K-6 school that is the district’s only facility, and Jefferson Elementary in Pullman, part of a much larger district, are among the schools I visited this fall. They illustrate how differences in the tax base and cost of living and quality of life can influence teacher recruiting and educational opportunities for their respective students. Many of us are determined to look out for the needs of rural schools like Benge as we respond to the McCleary education-funding case, and that has made the challenge greater. We will find a way to address the disparity called out by the state Supreme Court – but who will address the inequities that result when one school district is forced to shell out more local money for teacher salaries because it wants to end or prevent a strike? The Legislature can’t make teacher strikes more illegal than they already are.

As the father and father-in-law of public-school teachers, and with my eldest grandchild now in kindergarten, I appreciate the work teachers do and want to see them receive proper compensation. Paying for education with existing tax dollars first, as our Senate majority has worked to do these past four years, is exactly what we should continue doing under the “paramount duty” clause in Washington’s constitution.

Clearly, Inslee thinks Washingtonians should be giving billions more to state government, either through higher taxes on employers or through the increased costs that consumers inevitably pay when taxes go up. But it is disingenuous to use schools as the primary excuse, especially when there is no reason to believe that even a massive tax increase would end the threat of teacher strikes.

Reflections as our Senate majority coalition enters its fifth year

By Laudan Espinoza | Published on December 09, 2016

My former Senate colleague, Ed Murray, made a dire prediction ahead of the formation of our Senate Majority Coalition Caucus four years ago. In an interview with TVW, the now-Seattle mayor predicted that if two Democrats (Senator Tim Sheldon and former Senator Rodney Tom) joined with the Senate’s Republican members to form a new Senate majority, it would “poison the atmosphere” for years to come.

Clark County was still counting ballots when Senator Murray, the new leader of the Senate Democrats, offered his forecast. Because then-Rep. Barbara Bailey of Oak Harbor had just prevailed over a longtime Democrat incumbent to become senator for north Puget Sound’s 10th Legislative District, a victory by Senator Don Benton of Vancouver in the 17th District would mean 23 Republicans in the Senate and make a Sheldon-Tom-Republicans philosophical majority possible. For Ed to spin that scenario as he did – warning that chaos would result, and a bipartisan majority would be too unstable to lead – was completely predictable for someone in his awkward position. It also was completely wrong.

Senator Benton won his fifth term in a very close race, Senators Sheldon and Tom opted to align with us, and on Dec. 10 of that year we announced the creation of the MCC. The only poisoned atmosphere I remember was at the governor’s inaugural ball in January 2013 – specifically, the hissing from Democrats when Rodney (rather than Ed Murray) was introduced as the new Senate majority leader.

The MCC’s political “tent” instantly became the largest at the Capitol, and growing pains were inevitable. But chaos and instability? Maybe in other corners of the lawmaking process, but not in our coalition. I expected the MCC would serve at least as a counterbalance to our Democratic governor and the Democratic majority in the House; in hindsight, as our record of accomplishments shows, we have done so much more. Washington’s students, families and employers have had no better friend in Olympia these past four years.

As we move into our fifth year tomorrow, the MCC’s priorities remain true to our founding principles. Those include providing for a world-class education system; creating a job-rich, employer-friendly economy; serving Washington’s most vulnerable residents while being mindful of the needs of middle-income families; and an approach to budgeting that lives within the means provided by taxpayers. In short, we’re about protecting Washington’s future.

Happy anniversary, MCC!

State House needs to follow suit on toughening DUI laws

By Laudan Espinoza | Published on July 30, 2015

In January, the Legislature must make a fourth DUI a felony.

By Mike Padden

Special to The Times

AFTER 176 days of work, state lawmakers passed a historic budget that lowers tuition for the first time, puts record amounts of funding into basic education and makes significant investments in mental health — all with no new taxes. But in a legislative year of big achievements, one glaring failure by House Democrats stands out.

Despite the state Senate unanimously approving a bill three times this year to get tough on repeat driving-under-the-influence offenders, the state House failed to hold a single floor vote on this important measure to help take these dangerous individuals off our roads.

Earlier this month, we got yet another example of why we must address this problem. On July 2, a 34-year-old Bothell woman was impaired and driving with a suspended license when she seriously injured a 61-year-old Lynnwood woman in a head-on crash.

According to reports, the suspect has two previous DUIs and was driving with a suspended license. A trooper on the scene wrote that the woman’s breath smelled of “intoxicants,” and a later search of her purse revealed a marijuana pipe with burned residue.

Unfortunately, this story is not uncommon.

It was just a month ago that a driver flipped his car on the West Seattle Bridge. According to police, the man said he had a drink earlier in the day and had smoked marijuana beforehand.

This was the man’s fifth DUI arrest. Police said he reeked of alcohol. A breathalyzer reading from his previous arrest was three times the legal limit. At the time, prosecutors observed he “either cannot or will not refrain from driving impaired and is a grave danger to the community.”

We ought to be glad the 32-year-old man did not injure his 1-year-old daughter who was with him at the time of the rollover accident. But we ought to wonder at a system that makes it extremely difficult to send repeat offenders to prison.

Most people see a DUI arrest as a wake-up call, a turning point that forces them to change their behavior. For others, alcohol is far more powerful than the law. They’ll get hammered and slide right back behind the wheel. For repeat offenders, the punishment that fits the crime is one that removes them from the driver’s seat altogether and puts them behind bars at a state penitentiary.

That is why I teamed up with state Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, to introduce SSSB 5105, which would make a fourth DUI conviction in 10 years a felony and allow our courts to sentence the repeat offender to state prison instead of a shorter stay in county jail.

Forty-five states have felony DUI laws — of those, Washington is the only state requiring five convictions within a 10-year period.

During our hearings on SSSB 5105, we heard directly from the families of DUI victims. We heard the story of Dennis and Judy Schulte. The couple died on a Seattle street, struck by a pickup truck that also critically injured their daughter-in-law Karina and her infant son. And we heard the story of Morgan Williams, who died from injuries sustained when a wrong-way driver struck her car on Highway 520 in Seattle. In both cases, the drivers are accused of driving while intoxicated, and for both it was a repeat charge.

The heart-wrenching and compelling stories from victims’ loved ones who testified in support of the bill should have moved all of us to action. That was the case in the Senate, where not a single member voted against this bill during its three votes on the Senate floor.

But on this issue, the leadership of the House failed the people of this state by not allowing their members to have a single floor vote on this potentially lifesaving measure.

Why? Some have suggested that the bill did not receive a vote in the House, because Democratic leadership wanted the Senate to first pass a measure that would allow property-crime offenders out of jail early in exchange for supervision and then reduce that supervision when there is “positive-time” good behavior.

If true, it essentially boils down to a demand that the Senate go soft on property-crime offenders before the House would be willing to get tough on dangerous repeat DUI offenders. That’s an outrage.

SSSB 5105 has the full support of state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, as well as backing from prosecutors, law enforcement and — most important — victims’ families.

Those who rack up a fourth DUI conviction in just 10 years clearly pose a serious danger to everyone else on the road. For many victims, SSSB 5105 doesn’t go far enough in addressing this danger. I agree.

While making a fourth DUI a felony may not be the final step in strengthening our DUI laws, it is a good first step, and one the Legislature should take as soon as lawmakers return in January.

State Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, is chair of the Senate Law and Justice Committee.