OLYMPIA – At the close of a statewide education funding listening tour that included seven cities, Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County, and Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, released the following statement:
“After visiting seven unique communities across Washington, we’ve heard a strong, consistent message from educators, students and families about education funding problems that are quite the opposite of unique. We listened to passionate pleas from our families who are tired of waiting for the Legislature to fully fund basic education. They are tired of waiting for the state to meet their duty to ensure there is equity of opportunities for all students, whether they live in a rural community in eastern Washington or metro Seattle.
“First and foremost, we heard the message that the state must find a way to fully fund market based salaries for teachers and other school employees before the profession falls further behind other industries. We have heard this at every stop because in both small and large districts, rural and urban, local taxpayers are forced to pick up the tab for basics like staff salaries.
“We also heard numerous stories that deepened our understanding of the critical shortage of teachers in our state. Yakima started their school year with 30 vacancies, and as someone in Spokane said, ‘We’ve seen a bear, an elk and a moose on our school grounds, but not a fourth grade teacher.’ We have heard about the need for a renewed level of respect for the professionals in our schools. Are our educators wrong to ask for a career in education that is both financially sustainable and personally desirable?
“In addition, we heard from both large and small districts that the Legislature must leave local levies alone until the other issues around funding have been dealt with. The root of the levy problem is a lack of state funding, and districts need those voter approved funds to finance the individual programs that best serve their students.
“Finally, we heard cries for a thoughtful, honest look at how we collect revenue to pay for schools. People are tired of gridlock and are desperate for lawmakers to fully fund education without further burdening families. In fact many people specifically mentioned that the Legislature took a tough vote this year to pass revenue for transportation, and two years ago held a one-day special session to give Boeing a multi-billion dollar tax break. It is time we come together in a similarly bipartisan way to do what is right for our kids and pass fair and sustainable revenue.
“Hundreds of people took time out of their busy lives, sometimes driving hours from home, in order to tell us their story about teaching or raising a child in Washington. We heard their passion, their guidance and in some cases their desperation as to why full education funding is so critical. In the end, it is kids and families who pay the price of the funding failures in the Legislature. As the 2016 legislative session approaches, it’s time to act and show these Washingtonians we listened.”