Serving Franklin County, WA

Inslee funding unnecessary union jobs

Most schools in Washington state will remain closed this fall.

Some school districts are tightening their belts in anticipation of the COVID-19 budget cuts that are coming.

But last week Gov. Jay Inslee bypassed the Legislature and the decisions of local school districts to protect the jobs of unionized school bus drivers.

He's made sure money will keep flowing for school buses that are not carrying school children.

His next step may be to keep the money flowing to school buildings - even with no students.

Here is the background on his action:

In early August, the school districts of Edmonds and Blaine announced the layoffs of bus drivers and other school employees. On Aug. 17, six unions - including the Washington Education Association - wrote Gov. Inslee and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal demanding protection from these layoffs.

Nine days later, in a proclamation dated Aug. 26, Gov. Inslee rewrote state funding for student transportation. His proclamation canceled state law, Revised Code of Washington 28A.160 (Student Transportation), which requires districts to fund transportation based on student enrollment.

In March when schools closed, the state waived this portion of the law to keep bus drivers employed. Now, he has moved to make this change permanent by forcing districts to keep union school bus drivers employed, even though they are no longer transporting students.

Gov. Inslee claims his emergency powers due to COVID-19 allow him to rewrite the student transportation funding law. But after examining the law, it turns out he does not have this power.

The governor's emergency powers are limited, as described in R.C.W. 43.076.220, and they are circumscribed to "help preserve and maintain life, health, property or the public peace," not to protect the jobs of favored union constituencies.

A recent Gallup Poll shows that public school enrollment will drop this fall from 83% to 76%. This fact is alarming school administrators because school district funding is based on student enrollment.

If student enrollment falls off as expected this fall, the financial impact on school districts across the state will be large.

Gov. Inslee has now successfully funded school buses that do not carry children to school, but instead have been given union make-work, delivering learning packets, meals and technology.

Next, he may try to fund school buildings with no students and call it "continuous learning." All he has to do is follow this model, and claim it is "to preserve life, health, property and the public peace."

Lawmakers could respond by creating a new school choice program for families in Washington state. Giving each family $3,000 per child in state funding would help families hire tutors, buy curriculum, technology, or defray the cost of private school tuition.

School choice programs allow funding to be spent on the education of children, and not on protecting unneeded union jobs.

- Liv Finne is the Center for Education director at the Washington Policy Center. Email her at [email protected].


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