GOP senator says caucus eyeing $1 billion more for schools

A Senate Republican told hundreds of school leaders Sunday his caucus is preparing a budget which will increase funding for public schools “in the billionish range.”

Speaking to a gathering of school superintendents and trustees, Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus will make “very, very significant investments in K-12.”

His comments came during a panel discussion on education funding at the conference of school administrators and school district directors at the Red Lion Hotel in Olympia. It marked the first time a member of the ruling Senate coalition had publicly mentioned what caucus leaders are mulling as they craft a budget for release in a few weeks.

Sitting alongside Dammeier in the panel, Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said he’d like to see lawmakers invest $1.7 billion into basic education in the next two-year budget. Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, suggested Senate Democrats will seek at least $1.4 billion while Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said House Republicans are looking at around $900 million more. Wilcox also said the House GOP will unveil its plans this Thursday.

Education funding dominated Sunday’s conference with attendees wanting to know how lawmakers plan to comply with the 2012 Supreme Court decision which found the state fails to amply fund public schools. Justices gave lawmakers and the governor until 2018 to comply but wants them to make progress every year.

Before lawmakers took to the stage Sunday, Gov. Jay Inslee told the same gathering he wants to generate money for education by closing “obsolete” tax loopholes for corporations rather than seek new taxes.

He affirmed his campaign stance that “new taxes are not the way forward” and said he would detail loopholes he wants to close “in the next few weeks.”

Afterwards he declined to specify any tax breaks he wants to end or how much money he hopes to generate by doing so. It will be “the right number,” he said.

If lawmakers don’t take serious strides to comply with the McCleary decision, educators should work to replace them at the polls, a conference organizer told the crowd.

“We will not take no for an answer once again,” said Paul Rosier, executive director of the Washington Association of School Administrators.

If there is no honest down payment “then we should impeach all of these people in that Legislature and start again,” Rosier said. “It is time. It is time. It is time and it is long overdue.”

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