Lawmakers say students could pay for Republican inaction

If you saw your children playing near the edge of a cliff, you wouldn’t dawdle — you’d get to them as fast as you could and move them to safety.

That’s the kind of urgency the Legislature needs to use in addressing the so-called “levy cliff” that threatens schoolchildren across our state. If the Legislature fails to fully fund education by April, our schools will see their budgets slashed by nearly $400 million.

The Chimacum School District, for example, will have to find a way to operate despite $530,000 a year in budget cuts. In the Cape Flattery School District, the hit will be about $170,000. The smaller McCleary School District will lose more than $110,000. In districts that small, those are serious cuts. Teachers in districts across the state will receive pink slips, putting their families in economic jeopardy, and history shows that this causes many to leave the profession.

Clearly, Democrats and Republicans must work together and devise a bipartisan solution that is fair to all school districts in our state. But, sadly, that’s not happening.

On Monday, Democrats in the state House of Representatives passed legislation to ensure our schools do not fall over the levy cliff. A majority of House Republicans, however, voted against the bill – even though it’s almost identical to legislation they supported near unanimously last year.

So why did House Republicans flip-flop on their support from one year to the next? They said last week that if we don’t have the threat of the levy cliff hanging over the Legislature, then there will be no pressure to fix our education funding problem by the end of the 2017 legislative session in April. But that logic fails our kids on two fronts.

First, that strategy doesn’t actually hold the Legislature to task — it just holds the school districts hostage. Republican leaders in the Senate majority refused to allow the bill to come to the floor for a vote last year, and our schools have operated under a cloud of uncertainty and apprehension ever since. Many districts have already been forced to draft two budgets to address the levy cliff, which would trigger massive cuts and layoffs to hundreds of teachers.

Second, at a time when legislators need to roll up their sleeves and deliver for our kids, Republicans are showing an alarming disinclination. Tasked with producing an education funding proposal when the Legislature adjourned seven months ago, House and Senate Republicans opened the 2017 legislative session empty handed. Democrats in the House and Senate had a comprehensive proposal ready the first day of session, following months of intensive work during the legislative interim, and Gov. Inslee released a proposal in December. Republicans, in turn, presented only a list of ideological “guiding principles” that were no different than anything they had been saying seven months earlier. No numbers. No details. No answers of any kind. Indeed, their only activity on the planning front was to publicly attack a journalist who asked when a plan might be forthcoming.

We need to get to work, and work across the aisle, on a plan that is fair to all school districts across our state and ensures that our schools aren’t thrown into chaos. But that’s only possible if both sides recognize the urgency of the schools’ dilemma.

If Republicans continue to drag their feet on education funding, it is clear they will only have themselves to blame for an unnecessary crisis in schools across the state.

It is also clear who will pay the price for their inaction: our children.

Rep. Mike Chapman, Rep. Steve Tharinger and Sen. Kevin Van De Wege represent the 24th Legislative District.