The state’s charter school system would get money to stay open under the supplemental budget proposal released by Senate Republicans, a plan that also seeks to repair damage from last summer’s wildfires and aid the mental health system.
OLYMPIA— The state’s charter school system would get money to stay open under the supplemental budget proposal released by Senate Republicans on Wednesday, which also seeks to repair damage from last summer’s wildfires and help the state’s mental health system.
The plan would add about $49 million to the two-year $38 billion state budget adopted in 2015.
“I think that you will see that we are making big investments in mental health,” said Sen. Andy Hill, a Republican from Redmond and the Senate’s main budget writer. “We’re also following it up with reforms and policy — the way those dollars are spent.”
Many Senate Republicans have prioritized saving the state’s charter school system, which was ruled unconstitutional last year by the state Supreme Court in part because of the way the system was funded. The proposal would provide $6.6 million from the state’s Opportunity Pathways Account to pay for charter schools.
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It also would direct $173.3 million toward damage caused by last summer’s wildfires that burned 1 million acres and destroyed more than 300 homes. The proposal also calls for more than $54 million to address safety issues at Western State Hospital and aid other mental-health services.
The state’s largest psychiatric hospital could lose millions of dollars in federal funding because of a staffing shortage. A federal judge has ordered the hospital to provide timely services to mentally ill defendants, and officials with the state Department of Social and Health Services have told lawmakers that a lack of staff is hampering the hospital’s ability to do so.
The budget would provide $35.5 million for salary increases, efforts to recruit and retain staff, increased hiring and opening another ward at the hospital.
Unlike the House budget, the Senate proposal doesn’t use any money from the state’s emergency fund and doesn’t raise the state’s portion of a teacher’s salary as part of addressing the state’s teacher shortage. The House budget would spend $56 million to increase teacher salaries, and another $43 million for measures aimed at recruiting and retaining teachers. It also would spend nearly $50 million on services for the homeless, compared with $10 million in the Senate budget proposal.
One money-saving measure in the Senate’s budget is merging pension plans of law-enforcement officers, firefighters and teachers, a move that would make payment plans for the state “more reasonable” without changing retiree benefits, said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia.
Democratic leadership in the House did not respond to messages seeking comment.