State schools chief Randy Dorn says he’s weighing a run for governor as an independent, arguing that neither Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee nor Republicans are living up to their duty to fund public schools.
Dorn, who recently announced he won’t seek a third term as superintendent of public instruction, said in an interview he’s leaning toward entering the 2016 gubernatorial race, if only to prod Inslee and Republican challenger Bill Bryant on education funding.
“I do not see any one of the two candidates going forward that is going to produce a plan and produce a vision about how to pay for it,” Dorn said.
Despite the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision and a subsequent contempt citation, Inslee and legislators have yet to fully fund public schools as required by the state constitution.
The Legislature has begun a special session in Olympia after passing a bill that largely promises to deal with the education funding issue in 2017.
Dorn says raising the $1.4 billion to $2 billion in additional revenue needed to fix the problem is going to require a tax increase — whether that means raising existing sales and property taxes or creating a new state income tax.
“I want to be honest with the public. I want to tell the public, ‘Hey, there is no way you can get to paying for McCleary and our education system without talking about new revenue,’ ” Dorn said.
A former schoolteacher who served in the Legislature as a Democrat, Dorn was elected to the nonpartisan schools post in 2008.
While Dorn criticizes both parties, his harshest words were reserved for Inslee, whom he said seems more engaged in environmental causes than school funding.
“If it comes to global warming, ocean acidity, carbon, he’s all-in no matter what,” Dorn said. “But it’s not the paramount duty as a governor to solve global warming.”
In 2015, Inslee tried to meld the issues of education and climate in proposing a cap-and-trade system that would have raised $1 billion a year by selling pollution permits to large carbon emitters. A portion of that money would have been devoted to schools. The plan died in the Legislature.
Inslee and House Democrats also backed a capital-gains tax on the state’s wealthiest residents to raise even more money for schools, but the plan was dropped amid strong opposition in the Republican-led Senate.
Dorn said he doesn’t believe Bryant will produce an adequate plan for schools, and that the Republican doesn’t have a chance of winning in the Democratic-leaning state.