From Senator Jamie Pedersen, 43rd Legislative District
Greetings from Olympia!
We are wrapping up the first week of the 2017 legislative session. I continue to serve as ranking member on the Senate Law & Justice Committee, which has jurisdiction over civil and criminal law issues such as gun regulation, the death penalty, and police use of deadly force. I also continue to serve on the Ways & Means Committee, which writes the state’s operating and capital budgets and reviews every bill with a fiscal impact.
Earlier this week, I was pleased to hear Gov. Inslee share his strong commitment for ample funding of our public schools during his second inaugural address. The governor also spoke forcefully about our state’s commitment to equal rights and human dignity. I have heard from many constituents who are concerned and frightened following the national election. I will work tirelessly to safeguard Washington’s strong tradition of protecting civil and human rights and to fight discriminatory laws introduced in the Legislature.
Funding Public Education
As the father of three students at Stevens Elementary and one at Thurgood Marshall Elementary, I care deeply about public schools. The Supreme Court has ordered the state to provide ample funding for the schools and reduce its reliance on local property tax levies to fund teacher pay and other aspects of basic education.
For the past seven months, a bipartisan group of legislators has been meeting to develop a plan to provide sustainable school funding. Democrats released a plan before the statutory deadline, but we have yet to see a plan from Senate Republicans. I’m hoping the 25 members of their caucus will release a plan soon so we can start negotiating a solution that will reduce class sizes, increase teacher salaries, and give us the ability to build or renovate schools.
The most pressing concern for Seattle Public Schools is a $74 million shortfall facing the district next school year. A large part of that shortfall is created by the so-called “levy cliff,” which is an artificial limitation in state law on local districts’ ability to collect money that has been approved by district voters. Just this week the Seattle school board met to approve a “worst-case scenario” budget that would cut programs, reduce staff and increase class sizes.
I’m working with our local school leaders and my colleagues in the Legislature to remedy this situation by allowing districts to continue to collect the full levies approved by voters through the end of 2018. I am a co-sponsor of the Senate bill (SB 5023) and strongly support the House companion, which we expect will be the first bill passed out of the House this session. This would give school officials in Seattle and across the state the certainty they need to plan for the 2017-18 school year and forgo the painful exercise of sending layoff notices to hundreds of teachers and staff.
Because we continue to see rapid enrollment growth in Seattle Public Schools, I’m also working closely with our capital budget leads and the Superintendent of Public Instruction on increasing state support for school construction. Both the Supreme Court and voters have directed the state to reduce class sizes. To achieve this mandate and to relieve the overcrowding that many of the schools in our district are experiencing, the state needs to revise the formula for school construction funding. I will again sponsor legislation to address overcrowding and fix the flawed formula that disadvantages Seattle Public Schools and others throughout the state.
Thank you for the privilege of representing you here in Olympia. I welcome your comments and questions anytime.
Best wishes, Jamie
Senator Jamie Pedersen
43rd Legislative District