Washington Senate OKs $544M for K-12 schools

Money will pay for construction, security

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The schools funding bill orders the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to “expedite the eligibility review, project approval process, and contracting” for replacing Crestline Elementary School. The Evergreen district school, which was insured, was destroyed by fire on Feb. 3.

OLYMPIA — The Washington state Senate voted unanimously Monday to authorize $544 million in bonds for school construction projects, including $10 million for security upgrades spurred by the deadly Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut.

In addition to Senate Bill 5445, the upper chamber unanimously passed a measure detailing that the school security money go toward panic alarms to alert local law enforcement of emergencies, reducing the number of public entrances to schools and controlling and monitoring those entrances to make it harder for unwelcome parties to get inside.

Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said he introduced Senate Bill 5197 in response to the December elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 students and teachers dead.

"I wish we lived in a world where our schools were entirely secure and our kids were perfectly safe," Dammeier said. "Sadly, that's not the world we live in. But we can make them safer than they are today."

The measure is in contrast to one introduced last week in the House that would permit school districts to authorize teachers and administrators to carry guns at work. That measure, House Bill 1788, sponsored by Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, has not been scheduled for a hearing in the Democratic-controlled House.

The Senate passed the two measures a day before several school districts, including Seattle, Tacoma and Clark County, vote on school funding levies of their own.

Traditionally, the Legislature passes a construction bonding measure late in its annual session that covers everything from building upgrades to parkland acquisitions.

Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, said the push to fund school construction separately from other projects underscores the Republican-dominated Senate majority's focus on funding K-12 education.

"We want to make sure that we're sending a very clear message that it is a priority for us," Litzow said.

Litzow and other Republicans in the Legislature are pushing an agenda to allocate K-12 dollars separately and in advance of other moneys. With two Democrats joining 23 Republicans to form a one-vote majority in the Senate, the school construction bonding measure's passage on Monday can be seen as part of that broader effort.