Washington Legislature opens 2016 session on Monday: School funding tops agenda

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- With just a few days before the state legislative session starts in Olympia, leaders are scrambling to come up with a plan to fund schools and get out from under a state Supreme Court order -- and millions of dollars in fines.

Gov. Jay Inslee declared on Thursday that the state’s school funding problem is a crisis, and vowed action when legislators meet for their two-month session Monday.  “This is about the education of our children,” Inslee said, “not just a court order.”

Since last fall, the Legislature has been paying a $100,000-a-day fine for failing to fund public schools adequately.  Next week is the first time legislators will have met since the hefty penalty was imposed, and so the pressure is on as never before for a solution.

“If we make the appropriate investments,” Inslee said, “we can do fantastic things for the education of our children.”

There are actually several different education crises that lawmakers have to deal with this session:

    All of this is going to cost money, which is why the problems have lingered for years.  Inslee has proposed new revenue to help public schools, including closing tax breaks and implementing a capital gains tax.

    But on Thursday, the leading GOP candidate for governor, former Port of Seattle Commissioner Bill Bryant, downplayed the idea that new funding is needed.

    “Before we talk about how much more we need to spend,” Bryant said, “we need to have a clear understanding of how much the state is currently spending on basic education, and we don’t.”