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March 14, 2013 at 3:28 PM
OLYMPIA — State House Republicans unveiled an education budget proposal Thursday that would increase K-12 spending by $556 million without raising taxes over the next two years.
The budget would dedicate $817 million to respond to a state Supreme Court order to increase basic education funding, including by expanding full-day kindergarten, reducing class sizes in kindergarten through third grade and increasing class time. But it would simultaneously remove $347 million, mostly by continuing the suspension of Initiative 732, a 2000 measure that mandates annual cost-of-living raises for teachers.
The budget proposal also calls for an additional $86 million for policy changes.
To get the extra money into education — and address a now roughly $1.3 billion budget shortfall — House Republicans would accept Medicaid expansion paid for by the federal government, continue the suspension of family leave for state employees and make other cuts to the Department of Health and Social Services.
The budget also would find about $100 million in government “efficiencies” through a 2 percent cut to state agencies, would make about $200 million in budget transfers and would net about $80 million by eliminating a tax break for telecommunications companies.
House GOP budget writer Gary Alexander called it a “balanced approach.”
“I’m convinced that when we finish up in 105 days, we can balance this budget with reforms, resizing and reduction without new tax increases,” Alexander, R-Olympia, said at a news conference.
The budget has little chance of becoming law, as Republicans are at a 43-to-55 minority in the House. But it offers a window into the thinking of the GOP, which runs the state Senate.
Senate Republicans have been reluctant to say how much more money they want to dedicate to education, so far only offering a window of between $500 million and $1.5 billion.
Many Democrats, especially in the House, believe the court order mandates additional spending as high as $1.7 billion.
In a statement, House Democratic budget-writer Ross Hunter criticized Alexander’s proposal, in part by noting the proposal would barely set anything aside for reserves.
“My initial reaction is that this proposal is more like a press release than a budget,” said Hunter, D-Medina. “Budgets require you to make decisions about balancing competing demands – this document does not do that.”
March 6, 2013 at 6:11 PM
OLYMPIA — Struggling to respond to a state Supreme Court order to put more money into education, some state Senate Republicans on Wednesday came up with a way to save a bit of money: reduce the size of the court.
Senate Bill 5867, introduced Wednesday morning, would reduce the court from nine members to five (the minimum allowed in the state constitution).
And how would the four out-of-luck justices be chosen?
“On June 30, 2013, all existing judges of the state supreme court, shall meet in public to cast lots by drawing straws,” the bill says. “Effective July 1,2013, the positions of the four judges casting losing lots by drawing the shortest straws shall be terminated.”
The bill’s sponsor, state Sen. Michael Baumgartner, said the job cuts could save about $1.5 million in salary and administrative costs.
Baumgartner, R-Spokane Valley, used two of the court’s recent decisions — both of which went against conservatives — to argue in favor of the bill.
Last year, the court decided in the McCleary case that the state was not fulfilling its constitutional duty to fully fund basic education. And last week, the court declared unconstitutional an initiative-imposed two-thirds requirement for lawmakers to raise taxes.
“Every dollar we save by eliminating these four positions would be automatically funneled to K-12 education to help meet the guidelines the Supreme Court laid out in the McCleary decision,” Baumgartner said in a news release.
He added that, “based on their recent rulings on McCleary and their rationale behind the decision to throw out the will of the people regarding the two-thirds tax rule, I expect that the court will support this approach.”
The bill hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing.
March 6, 2013 at 12:56 PM
OLYMPIA — The state Senate narrowly approved two contentious education policy bills Wednesday after a heated debate.
The bills, to give A-F letter grades to schools and to give principals a veto in teacher placements, are top Republican priorities but are strongly opposed by Democrats.
The letter grades passed 26-23, while the principal veto passed 27-22 — both largely along party lines. State Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, opposed the first bill but supported the second.
The bills, each sponsored by Senate education Chairman Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, will now head to the Democrat-run House, where passage is far less likely.
Senate Bill 5328, the grading bill, is touted as a way to give parents more information and pressure schools to improve. Opponents view it as a dangerous oversimplification.
Senate Bill 5242, the teacher-placement bill, is meant to giving principals more power and prevent poor-performing teachers from being passed from school to school. Opponents say it would making arbitrary personnel moves easier.
Before the final vote, Democrats proposed several amendments to each bill. When those failed, they spoke repeatedly against the proposals.
“Giving letters makes great headlines,” said state Sen. Nathan Schlicher, D-Gig Harbor, on the first bill. “It doesn’t actually make great policy.”
“What are we doing here?” asked state Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, on the second bill. “What are we doing here? This is inbalancing the relationship between teachers and their supervisors.”
Echoing a Democratic refrain, Conway added he’s “not willing to support reform bills until we fund our schools.”
State Sen. Steve Hobbs, one of the four Democrats who voted for the bills, said policy changes and funding increases can be achieved.
Republicans said accountability for schools is key.
“We live in a country where anyone willing to work, anyone willing to make sacrifices, can rise from failure and achieve success,” said state Sen. John Smith, R-Colville. “And measuring that success is one of the most victorious and empowering things that a culture can do.”
More floor votes on education policy bills are expected this afternoon.
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