OLYMPIA — The education-budget blueprint released Thursday by Gov. Jay Inslee illustrates one fact above all else, advocates say: The governor is serious about responding to a state Supreme Court order to put more money into basic school operations.
Some $1.19 billion of the two-year plan’s $1.22 billion “targeted investments” in K-12 education are dedicated to essentials called out by the court.
The new funds would represent progress toward the court’s overall mandate — expected to cost $3.5 billion per biennium by 2018 — on a schedule similar to lawmakers’ previous yet unfunded plans.
“What he’s adding money to is very consistent with what the Legislature has been talking about for quite some time,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, a Bainbridge Island Democrat on the education committee.
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Whether that’s good or not depends on your perspective.
Democrats and establishment education groups largely praised the Democratic governor’s response to the court ruling, while Republicans and change-minded groups criticized the plan as unambitious.
The $1.22 billion in new investments — above the roughly $14 billion the state would spend maintaining the current budget — largely pay for school operations now covered by local districts.
About $465 million would go to utilities and classroom supplies, while another nearly $200 million would fund school buses.
Almost $130 million would go to reduce class sizes from 24 to 20 in kindergarten and first grade at high-poverty schools, with another roughly $115 million used to expand full-day kindergarten to those schools.
Nearly $100 million would be aimed at increasing learning time in middle and high schools.
Those are all categories lawmakers in 2010 promised to fund by 2018 — a plan the court endorsed.
Inslee’s spending for transportation and learning time would fully cover the state’s obligation under the court ruling. His proposals for the rest — especially class-size reduction — would represent only a down payment on the court order.
But Republicans said Thursday that Inslee has it backward. The first investments, they said, should be reserved for the classroom.
State Rep. Cathy Dahlquist, R-Enumclaw, noted the state House GOP 2013-2015 proposal puts more than twice as much into reducing class sizes.
Republicans also want more money for school accountability and other policy changes.
The governor’s plan would put about $10 million into transforming schools that consistently perform poorly on state tests, nearly $130 million into teacher development and almost $60 million into dropout reduction.
In statements Thursday, the state teachers union, PTA, and school directors’ association all praised the governor’s blueprint as a step toward responding to the court ruling.
Ben Rarick, of the State Board of Education, said there’s still a long way to go.
“What the governor did, as much as we appreciate it, it’s really not a long-term solution,” Rarick said. “It enables him to make some incremental steps, but I think people need to keep their eye on the ball.”
Brian M. Rosenthal: 360-236-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.