Legislative candidates talk testing, taxes at Northshore voters’ forum

The focus was on education issues, including funding and preparing students for the future.

The Northshore Council PTSA hosted a forum for candidates in the 1st, 45 and 46th legislative districts on Oct. 1, and asked them about innovations in education, school funding and taxes, emergency preparedness and safety, anxiety and mental health, testing, early learning and more.

A major point of emphasis among all of the candidates was that K-12 education should be focused on developing a love of learning and preparing for the future, whether or not that involves a four-year college. Many of the candidates supported an increase in funding for vocational training and hands-on experience, such as internships with local technology companies.

Though their methods differed, many also backed a change in the taxing formula that funds schools. The Legislature compromised on a “levy swap” in 2017 to fully fund education. It raised property taxes in some areas, including Seattle and the Eastside, and lowered them elsewhere, aiming to reduce inequities across the state based on zip code. The plan also reduced flexibility in local levies.

State Rep. Shelley Kloba, D-Kirkland, said she voted against the property tax increases on behalf of the 1st district, where she serves in position two. Kloba said she would like to see a capital gains excise tax used for education, or a revision to the B&O tax to ease the burden on small businesses and make sure larger ones are paying their share.

Kloba’s opponent, Woodinville resident and Republican Debra Blodgett, said she wants to “stop the onslaught of more taxation.” Similarly, Dale Fonk, the Republican from Woodinville running against incumbent state Sen. Manka Dhingra (D-Redmond) in the 45th district, said he “understands budgets… and the necessity to make a budget and live within a budget.”

“The levy swap was an attempt to correct some disparities,” Fonk said. “We’re going to need to get through this for two or three years and see how it shakes out… I would not be coming to you and saying we need to increase the taxes, though.”

Republican Amber Krabach, who is running against longtime state Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland) for position two in the 45th district, supports a per-student funding model, along with charter schools and school choice.

“Lawmakers currently allocate funding to schools based on the number of teachers and defined classroom sizes, in addition to other staff ratios, that are controlled by bureaucracies,” Krabach said.

Springer said Washington’s constitution will not allow inequities in education funding across the state, which was the basis of the McCleary debate, but that money is allocated to districts based on student need.

“For example, if you have a higher population of special ed students, you get almost twice the allocations,” he said. “There are some things we need to work out: special ed is certainly one of them, and the cap on the levy is another one.”

Another longtime representative who faces a Republican challenger is Roger Goodman (D-Kirkland). He is running against Michael Curtis of Redmond for position one in the 45th district. Curtis said he is focused on technology forward solutions, and increasing student involvement. He said his preferred funding method would be less district-focused and more of a centralized model at the state level.

“We talk about the problems, but the solutions are much more complicated,” Curtis said. “If we don’t involve our students in why they’re doing what they’re doing, they’ll get lost.”

Goodman said he was supportive of the expansion and improvement of the state’s basic education system, though the Legislature needs to adjust the “unfair burden” of property taxes in some areas. He also believes that it should be redefined as “P-20, not just K-12.”

“I think we talk too much about the need to get a good education in order to get a good job. I’ve always thought of education as a means to become a well-rounded person and a good citizen,” Goodman said.

Dhingra, Kloba, Pollet and Beth Daranciang, who is running against state Sen. David Frockt (D-Seattle) in the 46th district, touted their former involvement in PTA. Pollet noted that the state also needed to address the teacher shortage.

Daranciang, a Republican from Seattle, said she is running to give voters an alternative, and focusing on lower taxes and transparent government.

“One of the problems is that the constitution says that all property has to be taxed at the same rate,” she said. “It needs to be adjusted, but we have to work within the constitution.”

Frockt said he voted against the levy swap proposal three times in 2017, and sponsored a property tax cut this year.

“I think the McCleary decision was mostly about inadequate funding on the whole. It was secondarily about inequality in funding across districts,” he said. “The core part of the case was that we had to bump up funding overall, and that has happened to some degree, but it’s been done in somewhat of an inequitable way.”

In higher education, many of the candidates agreed that there was a need to increase capacity in programs like computer science and engineering, as well as continued tuition freezes or cuts and student loan forgiveness programs. Frockt noted the Legislature is close to fully funding the state need grant.

Some of the responses were split along party lines, such as if the threshold to pass school bonds should be lowered from 60 to 50 percent and if preschool should be included in the state’s definition of basic education (the Democrats supported both, while the Republicans did not), while others showed a broad basis of support, such as if test scores should be delinked from graduation requirements.

“If you look at the results, it’s primarily kids of color and kids in underrepresented communities who are the ones that aren’t doing well on these tests,” said state Rep. Javier Valdez (D-Seattle), the incumbent for position two in the 46th district, with other candidates noting that there are other ways to motivate students and demonstrate knowledge. Valdez’s opponent, Jerry Zeiger-Buccola, a Republican from Kenmore, did not attend the forum.

Several of the candidates suspected that high stakes testing is contributing to increases in anxiety and thoughts of suicide, along with social media, external pressures and a perceived lack of community. Dhingra said that the stigma around mental illness needs to be broken down.

“We have learned so much about behavioral health in the last 10 years, it’s astounding. We now have to make sure that we’re putting that into practice,” she said.

Rep. Gerry Pollet (D-Seattle), who serves in position one in the 46th district, noted that one factor that would help kids graduate on time is the addition of a seventh period at the state’s high schools. He said the state also needs to increase spending on special education, bilingual education, homeless services, transportation, nurses and school counselors. His opponent, Jeff Patton, a Republican from Lake Forest Park, was not in attendance at the forum.

Incumbent state Rep. Derek Stanford (D-Bothell) is running against Josh Colver, a Bothell Republican, for position one in the 1st district. Colver did not attend the forum. Stanford said he is focused on funding education and fixing Washington’s regressive tax system.

The candidates were also asked about safe injection sites and emergency preparedness plans. Most of the candidates agreed that the state can gather data and set high level policies but that it’s up to individual districts, working with local governments, nonprofits and faith communities, to decide what works for them.

“We can share best practices and ideas across the state, but details and the implementation really have to be well coordinated at the local level,” Stanford said.

For more on the Northshore Council PTSA, see www.northshorecouncilptsa.org, and see www.kingcounty.gov/elections for more general election information. The election is on Nov. 6.

Candidates from the 1st, 45th and 46th districts pose with local college students after a voters’ forum sponsored by the Northshore Council PTSA. Katie Metzger/staff photo

Candidates from the 1st, 45th and 46th districts pose with local college students after a voters’ forum sponsored by the Northshore Council PTSA. Katie Metzger/staff photo