The mantra of “fund education first” sounds good until you scratch the surface of their clever bumper sticker to find that that approach would result in decimating services and programs that Democrats care deeply about.
Yes, we should meet our constitutional obligation to fund k-12 education, but we also have a moral obligation to ensure that the 35,500 homeless children in our state can learn. We have a moral obligation to care for our elderly, our children, those with mental illnesses, those with developmental disabilities and those who lack basic human services.
Here are the facts:
- The state budget has been cut by over $12 billion dollars since 2008. These were real cuts to real people. Basic food, housing, and healthcare programs were slashed. It has only been in the last few years that we’ve been able to restore some of those cuts and begin investing in the future.
- 2/3rds of the state budget is protected by constitutional or federal requirements. This means cuts must come from the remaining 1/3rd of the budget.
- The largest unprotected/non-k-12 education-related spending includes:
- Low-income health care
- Long-term care for seniors
- Developmental Disabilities services
- Mental health programs (we just invested $40.9 million in our supplemental budget for more nurses, mobile crisis teams and youth mental health services at our state and community mental health institutions. More investments will be needed to address ongoing staffing shortages and adequate space in our facilities to avoid mental health “boarding”)
- DSHS Children’s Administration (child protective investigations, services for abused and neglected children, etc.). We need to make additional investments as caseloads increase.
- DSHS Economic Services Administration (TANF, basic food services, etc.)
- Juvenile rehabilitation services
- Special commitment center (houses the state’s most dangerous sex offenders).
- Higher education
Unless we are able to raise substantial new revenue, a fund education first budget would in actuality be a fund education only budget. Public safety, public health and those in need of basic human services would be at risk.
In addition, there would be no capacity to fund collective bargaining contracts for some of our lowest paid workers such as childcare workers and home care workers. State employees perform some of the most dangerous and thankless jobs and they deserve a fair wage. They staff our mental health hospitals, ensure our roads are safe and provide much-needed services to the most vulnerable Washingtonians.
Providing competitive wages through collective bargaining contracts allows us to attract and retain the best workers and ensures high quality of state services.