State Senate wants college tuition cut, K-12 dollars

SEATTLE — The budget proposal released Tuesday by Washington Senate Republicans indicates the Legislature’s two chambers may not be very far apart on their plans to put new dollars into education.

Both the Senate budget and the House budget, which was released Friday, put significant new money into basic education, as ordered by the Washington Supreme Court in the McCleary decision, give college students and their parents a break and help Washington State University get started building a new medical school. The budgets also give public school teachers a raise and delay fulfilling the voters’ request to shrink class sizes at every grade level.

The Senate budget proposal spends just $100,000 less on public schools than the House plan, but neither takes a whack at the other big challenge in the McCleary decision: the Supreme Court also told the state to quit relying on local school levies to fill holes in the education budget.

The Senate plan for the next two-year budget cycle does not include any new taxes to pay for education but does direct tax money from recreational marijuana sales toward education. The House paid for some of its budget plan with a new capital gains tax.

More details comparing the two education plans:

McCleary decision

The Senate proposes spending $1.3 billion toward the items listed in the McCleary decision: all-day kindergarten, smaller class sizes in grades K-3 and classroom materials and supplies. Both would expand all-day kindergarten across the state by the 2016-2017 school year and would shrink classes to 17 kids in K-3 by 2017-18.

Class-size Initiative 1351

Neither the Senate nor the House proposal goes beyond the McCleary mandate of reducing classes in kindergarten through third grade, despite voters’ decision in November to shrink classes in every grade. The Senate plan asks voters to approve this change on the ballot.

Teacher salaries

Both proposals include money to give public school teachers a cost of living raise. The House proposal includes some make up dollars above the raises called for in a voter initiative, which has been ignored by the Legislature for most of the years since it was overwhelmingly approved in 2000.

Higher education

While the House proposed another two-year freeze on college tuition, the Senate takes the idea a big step further by lowering tuition for college students by tying the rate at public universities and community colleges to a percentage of the average wage of Washington workers. Both budget proposals would send more money to colleges and universities and increase financial aid.

Early learning

Both the Senate and the House put more money into early learning, although the House puts nearly double the new dollars into preschool: About $204 million, compared to about $116 million by the Senate.

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