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Jan. 29, 2023

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Education budget gets varied response from local officials

They offer praise, criticism of $2.3 billion Inslee plan

By , Columbian Political Writer
Published:

Local officials’ reaction to the governor’s education budget, which was unveiled this week, ranged from praising his proposal as ambitious to slamming it as insufficient.

Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan includes implementing full-day kindergarten statewide and reducing class sizes to 17 for kindergarten through third grade in the 2016-17 school year. The proposal also called for increasing cost-of-living adjustments for teachers and freezing tuition hikes at public higher education institutions.

The plan doesn’t, however, detail how additional teachers and new programs would be paid for. On Thursday, the governor is expected to released a detailed revenue package.

“I love the idea he wants to spend $2.3 billion on education,” said Rep. Jim Moeller, D-Vancouver. “I love the idea of not being in contempt of court anymore. The fact is, we have to see where the money is going to come from.”

The Legislature is under court order to adequately fund the state’s public schools.

Battle Ground Superintendent Mark Hottowe said he appreciates the governor’s effort to put “together some fairly significant resources toward the effort of fully funding education.”

But, he said, it’s not enough.

“If the $2.3 billion is spread over the entire spectrum, it waters down the $2.3 billion that would go to K-12, which is in fact the McCleary priority,” Hottowe said. “As a superintendent, I have steadfastly supported the Legislature’s obligation … to fully fund K-12.”

Vancouver Superintendent Steve Webb echoed Hottowe’s sentiments in a statement, calling the governor’s proposal a “good second step but still … short of the estimated $4 billion required to provide full funding for basic education as ordered by the Washington State Supreme Court.”

Evergreen Deputy Superintendent John Steach said his district is ahead of some of the governor’s proposals — such as already funding all-day kindergarten.

Steach noted it’s difficult to fully assess the governor’s proposal without details of how the budget proposal would be funded.

“When you just get bits and pieces people have to make assumptions. … Our school funding system is so intricate and delicately balanced you really need to see how everything is going to fit together before you can come to a final determination if it’s going to meet students’ needs,” Steach said.

The governor’s budget is often a starting point for lawmakers who will likely spend the bulk of the upcoming legislative session negotiating over the details.

When that time comes, Steach said he hopes legislators reach out to local education leaders at the district level, “to make sure they understand what the implications are going to be before they finalize anything.”

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Columbian Political Writer