Can't afford to kick the can down the road

Editorial Gary MugWhile schools continue to tighten their belts because they haven’t been given the constitutionally guaranteed basic education funding they need by the state – each year the have to to play a waiting game to see just what their funding will be.

It seems like every school board tries to plan for the future when it comes to their school district, but more often than not we hear – ‘of course it all depends on when the legislature lets us know what kind of funding we will be receiving.’ Everyone knows that you base budgets and spending on how much you expect to receive, but if you work for someone and that number could change arbitrarily depending on your their mood or spending on something else – not necessarily economic factors – then you’re stuck. Making contingencies is something we’re all supposed to do when we make budgets, saving something for a rainy day and/or a leaky roof. But when the legislature continues to argue about how to fund schools, as ordered by the courts, then making realistic budgets are all the harder.

As part of the Washington Newspaper Publisher’s Association we are able to bring you some additional coverage of what’s going on at the state capital. Elliot Suhr, with the WNPA News Service, writes this week about how the legislators are addressing or not addressing basic education funding. Some legislators would like to push the issue into next year. This causes additional uncertainty and the last thing our students, teachers and administrators need is uncertainty when it comes to budgeting for next year. It’s hard enough when you don’t know for certain whether enrollment will go up or down, even though that’s how the state determines how much basic education funding the school will get. So district’s often budget conservatively on their best guess on how many students they will have and hope that number doesn’t drop.

Many of the district’s basic costs generally don’t go down even if the student population does. It still costs to heat and cool the buildings and to maintain them. So having some idea of how much funding will be coming from the state is vital.

One thing we’ve been promised for years is that the state’s primary goal is to educate our children. It’s in Washington’s Constitution. Sure there are many other things we rely on from the state and we could have an argument about what programs are and aren’t worthy, but education is supposed to be number one. The legislature wasn’t fulfilling that promise and got caught with their hand in the cookie jar and was told by the court that it was their job to fund basic education and they weren’t doing so.

Now the legislature and the governor need to do their jobs and not kick the can down the road. They need to let our school districts know how much they will be getting so they can set their budgets accordingly. They need some certainty and expecting them to guess whether or not their will be enough funding to properly educate their charges is unfair. Expecting the local communities, which have been generous in the past, to make up the difference is unfair too.

It’s time to stop kicking the can down the road and address the number one job expected from our state leaders and fund our public schools.