State legislators talk education funding

A discussion forum on education funding Monday at North Kitsap High School generated several questions, but few answers.

One theme state Reps. Sherry Appleton and Christine Rolfes mentioned repeatedly during their discussion with local school district administrators, teachers and students was the need for more money for education.

“It all comes down to budget,” Appleton said. “Real reform comes with money.”

In the past year, state and local funding for education has decreased. The state Legislature cut funding for K-12 education by 5.3 percent in the last legislative session, Rolfes said.

“There were a lot of tears,” Rolfes said of the cuts. “I can’t promise that we can defend every program, because we can’t.

“It’s going to be really important for the education community to localize around funding issues this year,” Rolfes said. “There was a lot of distraction last year between ed reform and funding, and I think a lot of the voices got mixed in Olympia.”

The discussion moved on to focus on the need, according to some, for a more solid education funding source rather than levies.

“We have always done levies. So you never know what your source of revenue is going to be. There’s never a steady flow,” Appleton said. “What we need is ... to get the levy system out of the way, so school boards will know how much money is coming in.”

Getting rid of the levy system would require the Legislature to raise taxes in other areas, an option Appleton said taxpayers would be hesitant to accept, especially at a time when household budgets are also tightening.

But Walt Bigby, superintendent of Olympic Educational Service District 114, which covers school districts in Kitsap and most of the Olympic peninsula, believes a tax increase for the sake of education could actually help pull the state out of a slumping economy.

“Why does the discussion only deal with the redistribution of the existing revenue?” Bigby asked Appleton and Rolfes. “If we’re going to improve the situation we’re talking about, in terms of future revenue, it’s going to come from an investment this state makes in education. But if we refuse to talk about that in realistic terms ... I don’t know how we’re going to get to this issue of growing the pie, instead of just talking about how we split the pie that’s shrinking in size.”

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