Monday, January 14, 2013

Tough Decisions Lie Ahead During This Legislative Session

by Nicole Milbradt, Sr. Marketing Associate & Events Manager

As the state legislative session opens, Washington State has some tough decisions to make. First on the list are the recommendations of the McCleary decision.

In January of 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the King County Superior Court decision in the caseMcCleary, Venema, and NEWS v. Washington State, concluding the state was failing to meet its constitutional obligation to adequately fund basic education for Washington’s students. In 2009 and 2010, the state legislature passed Substitute House Bill 2261 (ESHB 2261) and Substitute House Bill 2776 (SHB 2776), which include plans to provide all-day Kindergarten classes in public schools and reducing class size for Kindergarten through third grade classes to 17 students per classroom (from an existing average of 25). Additionally, the bill would increase funds for maintenance, supplies and operating costs as well as fully funding transportation for students to and from school.
However, because of budget cuts in the 2011-2013 biennium, the court found the state has yet to make measurable progress toward fully funding basic education. The court ruling in the McCleary case requires the Legislature to make the implementation and funding for the reforms laid out in ESHB 2261 their top priority. The anticipated cost of the implementation is more than a billion dollars during the approaching biennium, with additional costs being covered in future years
No one would argue that making education a priority is a bad thing. However, if more of the limited budget dollars available are earmarked for education, another area will have less to work with. Many are concerned that the decreased funds will hit human services the hardest.
The number of people seeking human services spiked during the recession and is slowly receding. The Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Basic Food program saw a 60 percent jump in 2010 to nearly 158,000 people served in Pierce County alone. Without vital funding from the state, many of these services would not be available.
United Way of Pierce County includes advocacy in its work to help sustain Pierce County services. United Way’s community champions have identified key human service issues and will work to educate and inform legislative leaders of the impact cuts to services could have.
With so many deserving causes, one thing is certain. The legislature will have several tough decisions to make during this 105-day session.