The House on Wednesday approved its education funding proposal, but majority Democrats haven’t yet decided how to pay for the plan, which has a price tag of more than $7 billion over the next four years.
OLYMPIA — The House on Wednesday approved its education funding proposal, but majority Democrats haven’t yet decided how to pay for the plan, which has a price tag of more than $7 billion over the next four years.
The bill ultimately passed on a 50-47 party line vote after lawmakers had to redo the vote because, initially, two Republicans accidentally voted in favor. The chamber’s action comes just weeks after the Republican-led Senate passed its own plan. Both sides will now need to negotiate a final compromise.
“Is it perfect, no. Do we have a lot of work to do? We absolutely do,” said Democratic Rep. Kristine Lytton. “This is really hard work but I know we’re up to the task.”
Lawmakers are working to comply with a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling that they must fully fund the state’s basic education system. The court has set a deadline of Sept. 1, 2018 fully fund education, but has said that the details of how to do that – as well as how lawmakers will pay for it – must be in place before the Legislature adjourns this year.
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Lawmakers have already put more than $2 billion toward the issue since the ruling, but the biggest piece remaining of the court order is figuring out how much the state must provide for teacher salaries. School districts currently pay a big chunk of those salaries with local property-tax levies.
Unlike the Senate plan, which would replace local school levies with a statewide uniform rate earmarked for schools, the House plan would lower the local levy rate, but not eliminate them completely. Similar to the Republican Senate plan, the House Democratic plan increases beginning teacher salaries to $45,500. But unlike the Senate plan, the Democratic proposal then requires those beginning salaries to increase by 10 percent after three years.
Several Republican amendments were rejected, including one that would have made the bill null and void “unless the Legislature specifically enacts new revenues to fully fund it.”
While the Democrats’ haven’t offered specifics on how to pay for it, they have previously noted several potential sources of revenue, including closure of tax exemptions, changes to the state property and business and occupation taxes and a new capital gains tax.
Republicans said the amendment didn’t mean they wanted more taxes — they just wanted to be able to talk about Democrats’ current lack of a revenue plan. Democrats say that they wanted to focus on the policy first, then figure out the particulars of funding as they continue working on a budget proposal.
Republican Rep. Paul Harris said that without a funding package, it’s impossible to know whether the overall plan fully funds education, as required.
“So I question whether it’s a serious plan,” he said.
One Republican amendment that was approved allows school districts that don’t have adequate facilities to lower class sizes for kindergarten to third grade to still receive state funds that can instead be used to hire additional staff.