Deadline Nears for Lawmakers to make Education Reforms
BY ISSAC SCOTT
Washington state lawmakers are working to increase education funding and enact other education reforms this legislative session, under pressure from the State Supreme Court and Governor to take decisive action to improve public education in the state.
The State Legislature has until April 30 to offer a concrete plan on how it intends to meet minimum budget requirements for state education mandated by the State Supreme Court. In 2012, the court ruled that current levels of funding were unconstitutional and failed to meet requirements for ample public education.
Education reform has been a key priority of this season’s legislative session, which ends on March 13. Lawmakers are still divided on how to meet the funding targets, and what the Supreme Court order actually entails.
On March 4, the House passed a supplemental budget proposed by Democrats that would curb several tax-breaks in order to redirect $100 million to public schools, providing cost of living increases for teachers, smaller K-3 classes sizes, new technology in classrooms, and preventing tuition increases for state colleges.
Governor Inslee has supported the proposal, but wants lawmakers to go further, and is calling for $200 million in new revenues by closing more tax-breaks. The money targeted by the Democrats currently goes to oil-refineries, bottled water, out-of-state shoppers, and prescription drug sellers. The budget must next be approved by the State Senate, where it will face opposition from the Republican majority who oppose raising taxes.
Another bipartisan proposal on the table would raise $700 in new revenues by selling bonds backed up by state lottery funds. The measure would provide hundreds of new classrooms for kindergarten through third grade.
The first bill signed into law this season extends college financial aid to students without legal citizenship status, a major victory of immigrant rights advocates and the “Dreamer” movement. Expanding access to affordable college education was announced as a main priority by Governor Inslee in this year’s State of the State address.