Legislature shows its commitment to funding education

glemasurier@theolympian.comMay 6, 2012 

Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the 2012 supplemental budget last week, reducing spending in the current biennium by $1.1 billion.

You might grumble about how long it took state legislators to agree and that they resorted to a $238 million accounting trick to get the job done, but the governor signed some good news into law on Wednesday.

I’m referring to the Legislature’s best effort to honor the constitutional mandate to fund education. This budget might fall short of fully funding education, as ordered by the state Supreme Court, however you might define it, but there were no further cuts to K-12 and higher education.

That fact signals the hope that legislators can find common ground around the concept of education as a pathway to a healthy and prosperous state.

I would particularly commend legislators for continuing maintenance funding – $57 million per year – for the Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program. This is a critical piece of the education portfolio.

Experts agree that the sooner children receive high-quality learning programs, the more likely they are to stay in school and be successful in their careers and their lives.

It’s proven that investments in early learning, especially for vulnerable children, have a return on investment that is unmatched by almost any other public investment – almost $16 to every $1 invested – due to increased school readiness and success, graduate rates, workforce readiness, job productivity, and lifetime income and thus greater contributions to our tax base.

That means early learning programs create a catalyst for economic development. Preserving that funding, at a time when Washington needs it most, is a jewel in this budget.

The last week of April was nationally celebrated as the “Week of the Young Child.” Research tells us that 85 percent of the human brain develops before age 5, making the early years so critical to future success. Each school year builds on the one before, so it’s logical to cement a strong foundation on which future learning depends.

Unfortunately, children in low-income communities are often not privy to the same academic opportunities as their peers in higher-income communities. Many kids also face the challenge of being immersed in English for the first time, while continuing to develop skills in their native language at home.

There are many businesses leaders right here in Thurston County who support America’s Edge, an association of business people who encourage early childhood education programs because they build capacity for future employment and income growth.

Steve Leahy, executive director of America’s Edge, says, “Thankfully, our state’s leaders recognized that prosperity and quality of life begin with investing in our youngest citizens. Getting kids off to the best start in life will enable them to become the police officers, teachers, and doctors they dream of becoming.”

All of us who care about Washington’s economic health are pleased that the governor signed the Legislature’s budget and that education was given a priority. We are still climbing out of the deep trough of this recession, but investing in high-quality early learning programs will assuredly help get us there.


South Puget Sound Community College, and the higher education community in general, will miss Gerald Pumphrey, who announced he will retire at the end of the year. He steered SPSCC through difficult economic waters with vision, wit, intelligence and great humor … Intercity Transit’s 25th annual Bicycle Commuter Contest is already under way, but the official entry deadline is Friday. Record your bicycle commuting miles until June 8 and possibly win fabulous prizes … Give thanks. It was quiet in Olympia this week, unlike Seattle.

George, LeMasurier, publisher of The Olympian, may be reached at 360-375-0206 or glemasurier@theolympian.com.

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