Senate budget takes stab at paying for education

SEATTLE — A budget proposal from a coalition of state senators would make about a $1 billion down payment toward a Supreme Court order to put more money into the state education system and lift the financial burden from local school districts.

Senate leaders said the proposal is their attempt to pay for education first, but others say it takes money from the needy and other vital areas.

The Senate plan hits many of the high points of the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision, which called on the Legislature to fully pay the cost of basic education by 2018. The Senate would put more money into classroom materials and supplies, pay for student transportation, make a down payment on full-day kindergarten and put more money into programs that help struggling students and failing schools.

Some of the funds to pay for the Senate’s ideas would come from taking health insurance from part-time school employees, making teachers pay more of their health insurance, taking money away from vocational education and construction, replacing the state high school tests with national exams, and moving dollars aimed at teacher cost of living raises toward other purposes.

The rest would come from cuts to programs that help the poor or disabled.

“This is a smoke and mirrors budget that takes money out of one education pocket and puts it in another education pocket,” said Mary Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association, the statewide teacher’s union.

Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, said the state should not pay for public schools by slashing services for the state’s most vulnerable citizens.

McAuliffe wants citizens to vote on a statewide income tax on individuals earning more than $200,000 and married couples earning more than $400,000. The money would all go into a fund for education.

“I believe the public deserves the chance to decide for themselves if they want to buy back detrimental cuts to the most vulnerable and fund education for our students to ensure all children have the support they need to be able to live their dreams,” she said.

Senate Ways and Means Committee Chair Andy Hill, R-Redmond, said the Senate proposal is all about prioritizing education, adding, “we’re driving outcomes instead of just throwing money at a problem.”

The Senate plan is the third of four expected budget proposals out of Olympia this year.

Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee made his budget proposal, which suggested similar education investments — plus more — but pays for the plans by closing tax loopholes and pushing new dollars toward education.

Soon the Democratic majority in the House is expected to release its budget proposal.

House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said it’s important to show the Supreme Court the Legislature is making progress on the McCleary decision, including taking the financial burden off locals. He calls that the “broccoli” of the equation.

“You could argue that it’s a higher value to add new services, and then replace the local costs,” as the Senate proposal does, Hunter said.

But that would put the Legislature in an uncomfortable position when it gets to the point where lawmakers need to ask taxpayers for more money just to keep things the way they are.

None of the budget proposals made so far tackle what may be an even bigger problem — figuring out how to pay the extra teachers necessary to lower class sizes, make school days longer, require more credits to graduate and offer free all-day kindergarten to all students.

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