For two years, members of the Metropolitan King County Council have considered how best to spend a onetime, $318 million windfall for education.
They hired consultants, held community meetings and heard hours of public comment about whether the money would make the biggest difference in early learning, K-12 schools or higher education. Now, councilmembers have a formal spending plan — but it could take another eight months before they have a plan to execute it.
On Wednesday, councilmembers voted 7-1 to divide the majority of the $318 million between building new early-learning facilities across King County and supporting more K-12 students after high school. And after hearing last-minute appeals that an earlier spending plan left out groups led by people of color, the council set aside about $41 million for community-based organizations that work closely with historically marginalized youth.
The total pot of money, which lasts through 2034, comes from a fee on Sound Transit construction contracts that lawmakers included in the state’s transportation budget back in 2015. The law set no formal limits on how King County could spend the funds, beyond using them to improve academic outcomes for kids who are low-income, homeless or in other vulnerable groups.
Pierce and Snohomish counties should receive a combined $200 million from the same fees, according to projections.
In King County, Councilmember Kathy Lambert provided the lone “no” vote against the legislation approved Wednesday. She suggested that K-12 schools, which have seen billions of dollars injected into their state revenues, should be more accountable regarding the money they have now.
The spending plan would direct about $154 million to increasing space for early-learning programs, particularly those that enroll children living in poverty, those in foster care and other target populations. A little more than $11.5 million of that money would specifically support home-based care providers, which Councilmember Dave Upthegrove said serve nearly half of all King County children in early-learning programs.
The council also voted to commit about $112 million to a so-called King County Promise program that would support K-12 students to and through college and other opportunities after high school, including trade and apprenticeship programs.
Before any organizations can apply for grants from the $318 million, county staff must first draft an implementation plan and submit it for the full council’s consideration within eight months.
But Councilmembers Claudia Balducci and Jeanne Kohl-Welles raised concerns that state lawmakers may redirect the Sound Transit fees away from county coffers.
“The (Washington) Legislature has to appropriate this money every year,” Balducci said. “They have in the past swept accounts that were set for one particular use and then spent it for other needs.”
Clarification: The final quote should have been attributed to Councilmember Claudia Balducci. It was unclear who said it.