After a weekend of legislative town halls focused on education funding, budget writers for the GOP-led Senate get ready to release 2017-19 spending priorities early next week.
It’s Day 68 of 105 in this year’s regular legislative session, and when it comes to a final solution to the McCleary decision, next up is the House and Senate budget proposals, the first of which is expected Monday or Tuesday.
Earlier this week, Gov. Jay Inslee signed the “levy cliff” extension that offers school districts some breathing room during the wait. And lawmakers, after overwhelmingly approving the levy measure last week, retreated behind closed doors to hash out the final pieces of their 2017-19 budget plans.
Here are more details about the McCleary action over the past week:
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On Saturday, lawmakers hosted several town halls across the state, and education funding claimed much of the spotlight.
At least 200 teachers and their allies rallied at a forum in Vancouver, according to The Columbian.
And while many urged the Legislature to settle McCleary and fully fund public schools, they also stressed that investment cannot come at the cost of other social services, such as mental-health care and affordable housing.
“We know that hungry kids can’t learn. We know that kids dealing with mental-health issues can’t learn,” education activist Heather Lindstrom said.
Also over the weekend, the Ellensburg Daily Record and Peninsula Daily News covered the collective sigh of relief coming from school districts after the Legislature overwhelmingly approved a measure to ensure they don’t lose out on $350 million in local levies under a so-called “levy cliff.”
But by Tuesday, district officials had already started registering their concern and confusion over new accountability rules included in the negotiated levy bill. Their main worry is over the requirement to track how they spend local levy dollars.
Chris Reykdal, state superintendent of public instruction, told The (Everett) Herald that a final McCleary fix should revisit the issue.
“At this point I don’t want to exercise a lot of energy on something that is going to be worked out,” he said.
On Thursday, new projections showed Washington will bring in $313 million more revenue than anticipated over the next biennium. In total, lawmakers will have $41.6 billion for the 2017-19 budget, or about 6.8 percent over 2015-17.
That will give Republicans in control of the Senate some math homework over the weekend as they prepare to release their budget plan Monday or Tuesday. The Democrat-led House will do the same one week later.
(Bipartisan celebration over passage of the levy bill was short-lived as Senate Republicans and House Democrats renewed their bickering over their competing McCleary plans on social media.)
Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the Trump administration released its “skinny budget” proposal that calls for offsetting a $54 billion boost in military spending with cuts in many domestic programs.
If Congress goes along, the federal Education Department would face a 14 percent cut, according to The Washington Post, with after-school and summer programs and aid for first-generation and low-income students on the chopping block.
Charter, private and other school-choice initiatives would see a historic investment of $1.4 billion under Trump’s budget plan.
Back in Washington state, as state lawmakers struggle over budgets, The Seattle Times LiveWire event series will feature a panel discussion on the costs of underfunding public schools.
The free event, scheduled for Wednesday, starts at 6:30 p.m. at Kane Hall on the University of Washington campus.