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Legislature must finish its work on fine-tuning education funding

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A successful public education system is the foundation of a strong and diverse economy and healthy local communities.

This is why the Association of Washington Business (AWB) and our 7,000 members have supported smart and equitable investments in the K-12 education system — $4.5 billion in additional spending since 2013.

Lawmakers are currently working on the final and most difficult piece of the school funding challenge — levy reform, which would ensure the state is paying the full cost of basic education, including teacher salaries, and not relying on local property tax levies to fill the funding gap.

This is the most complex piece of the state Supreme Court’s 2013 McCleary education funding ruling, but it’s critical to equalizing school funding across the state in ways that improve student outcomes and bolster teacher support.

For employers, the discussion is not just about allocating more money to the K-12 education system, although we wholeheartedly support additional smart investments, but rather about ensuring better outcomes for students and preparing a skilled, prepared and diverse workforce ready to fill the job openings today and into the future.

Speaking at AWB’s annual Legislative Day in January, our new state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said his job is to make sure “we get better results for students” and that it’s “not just about more money” but rather getting the right results for the additional investments.

This is a point on which we agree and one that will go a long way if pursued in the current negotiations.

There are four education funding proposals being considered by lawmakers right now, all of them closely aligned on policy elements we support, including:

<>   Increased beginning teacher salaries to attract the best and brightest in every school across the state. Studies show the greatest indicator for student success is a high-quality teacher;

<>  Effective and efficient funding enhancements that offer students exposure to alternative educational pathways, such as career and technical education (CTE), and increased funding for high-need, homeless and highly-capable students; and,

<>  Local levy reform that both moves the cost of basic education, including teacher salaries, back to the state, and also allows local school districts options to enhance their students’ educational experience.

Combined, they would send a strong signal for what we value: a strong public school system that puts kids first and exposes them to the many career pathways, and one that prioritizes teacher preparedness and compensation.

On the first point, our state needs all manner of high school graduates: those that are headed to a trade or technical career, a two-year college or on to a four-year degree.

We can do this by keeping standards high and course rigor in place while offering parents and students options for hands-on learning while mastering the basics. Working closely with lawmakers, our world-class four-year institutions and the State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, our goal is to increase awareness in schools that there is value in all career pathways.

We’re pleased the discussions in the Legislature are going in the right direction.

It’s the fine-tuning that will get us to the destination of an educational system that prepares students for success in the workforce and readies them for postsecondary education and, of course, gives our educators the support they need to get students across the finish line, today and tomorrow.

Kris Johnson is the president and CEO of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturing association.