Governor proposes $2.3 billion education package, doesn’t fund I-1351 class size reduction

Gov. Jay Inslee launched his extended budget rollout by focusing on education. This is, of course, the fun part of the rollout, talking about what the new spending will buy before having to get to the grit of new taxes. It’s, well, let’s just use the governor’s own characterization,

Inslee proposes boldest new efforts in improving full continuum of education in 2 decades

It is ambitious, going beyond what’s required by McCleary but stopping short of I-1351.

Inslee’s $2.3 billion education package would include the largest-ever state investment in early learning and results in the largest increases in basic education funding in nearly a quarter century. As recently as 2007, public schools accounted for less than 39 percent of Near General Fund spending. Under Inslee’s proposal, public schools’ share of state spending increases to 47 percent.

The two-page summary of the proposal outlines his plans for expanded early learning, accelerating full funding of HB 2776 (the metric by which the state Supreme Court assesses McCleary compliance), funding the I-732 COLAs for teachers, freezing resident undergraduate tuition and boosting postsecondary STEM programs. The governor’s office also provides more context in a six-page overview of the education proposal.

There are few surprises and much to like in the proposal. And as the Associated Press reports, some stuff not everyone likes.

Republican lawmakers are not happy with what they have heard so far of the governor’s education plans.

They want to see the governor’s plan for answering the Supreme Court’s criticism of the state’s overreliance on local levy dollars to pay for education. They think the governor is not showing leadership on what to do with the class size Initiative 1351, a measure that at least a few lawmakers in that caucus say they support suspending for the next budget cycle. And they don’t think new revenue sources are needed for education.

The 1351 omission did not go unnoticed by proponents, as the Seattle Times reports.

Teachers-union leaders were dismayed that Inslee does not want to fund Initiative 1351, which passed in November and requires lawmakers to pay for an estimated 25,000 new employees to work in K-12 public schools across the state, in part to reduce class sizes.

In Inslee’s proposal, there is no money to lower the number of students per class from fourth grade through high school.

The governor, who did not vote for I-1351, says he does not support repealing it.

Inslee said he would continue to work on lowering class sizes — something mandated in Initiative 1351, the measure approved by voters in November. However, he did not say when that might happen.

“I do not support repealing it,” he said, referring to 1351.

Republicans point out that if you can’t afford it, you have to change it. KPLU reports:

But while Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, praised the Inslee administration’s call to extend a freeze on university tuition rates, he also called for the governor to take a clearer stand on I-1351. It takes two-thirds of House and Senate members to suspend, modify or repeal a voter-approved initiative, and Dammeier said the governor’s leadership is needed to shape the debate in the legislature.

“You either have to fund it or suspend it,” Dammeier said of I-1351, “and we have to understand what [the governor] thinks. It doesn’t appear to me that he’s funding it.”

Senate Republicans speaking to reporters Monday said their caucus would advocate suspending the initiative.

And then there’s the matter of money.

Some Republicans took issue with the governor’s proposal to raise taxes to fund education, or through a climate initiative that he is scheduled to unveil Wednesday.

“Making it contingent upon a tax increase at all, be it a carbon-tax increase or any other tax increase, is fundamentally flawed,” said Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, one of the spokesmen for the Senate’s Republican caucus.

Much more to come. It’s going to be a long, bumpy road.