State budget deal calls for property tax hike to fund public education

KING 5's Heather Graf reports.

Details of the long-awaited bipartisan budget agreement were made public on Thursday, as the deadline to pass the budget draws near.

Lawmakers in Olympia have until midnight Friday to get a new budget to the governor's desk if they want to avoid a partial state government shutdown.

And though official budget documents were not expected to be released until Friday morning, lawmakers spoke publicly about the budget details for the first time on Thursday.

"It's not the exact finish we would like to see time-wise, but we're getting it done," said Senator John Braun, R-Centralia.

Braun served as the chief budget writer on the Republican side.  While he wishes the budget deal had been reached sooner, he believes the plan now on the table satisfies a State Supreme Court mandate to fully fund education.  Braun says that's what is most important.

"If you look at the strict requirements of the remaining parts of the McCleary decision, it's really about making sure we're fully funding teacher pay from the state and not relying on local levies.  We absolutely do that.  I think the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction number to do that is in the $5 billion range in the next four years.  We are over $7 billion," said Braun.  "So from a financial standpoint, we are well over that."

Democrats agree, saying they too feel this budget deal meets the requirements of the McCleary ruling.

The State Supreme Court ruling said lawmakers violated the state constitution by failing to provide enough money for students and letting school districts rely too much on local levies.

Lawmakers say their budget plan addresses that issue with an increase to the statewide property tax that would generate $7.3 billion for schools over the next four years.  The money would be used to create smaller class sizes, give teachers raises, and expand technical and career-based programs.

The budget agreement would also put a cap on how much school districts can raise through levies.  That would mean a tax cut for some areas. 

"There will still be some inequities based on where people pass local levies.  We can't eliminate all inequities, but we have closed the gap significantly," said Senator Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island.

But as members of the Washington Education Association analyzed the fine print of the budget deal on Thursday, teachers said they don't think it does enough.

"It's progress.  They're making progress, which is good to see.  However, I would say that it falls short of what is in the McCleary mandate from the State Supreme Court," said teacher Tim Brittell.

Brittell has spent the last 31 years teaching in Washington schools.  He also serves as president of the Northshore Education Association. 

"I'll put it in the perspective of the students, because I think that's really what we have to keep in mind," he said.  "We have a teacher shortage right now.  We don't have a teacher shortage in two years.  We've had a teacher shortage for two years.  And while there are salary improvements in this budget deal to attract and retain teachers, they are kicked down the road to be implemented in two years.  And we need new teachers right now."

Brittell said it's the timeline of implementation that teachers take issue with. 

Basically, they feel most of changes and the money still wouldn't kick in for several years under this budget deal.  And he says students can't wait that long.

"That's really frustrating.  And the person that pays the price for that is the first grader, second grader, the senior in high school," he said.

WEA said they are continuing to analyze details of the budget and teachers plan to be back in Olympia on Friday, to voice their concerns to lawmakers.

"There are always going to be folks that have a different perspective," Braun said in response.  "But when you look at the numbers that the court said to do and what we did, it's undeniable.  This is what it costs, and we did more than that.  There are going to be groups that always want more, but the truth is that I think we've done the right thing, we've fully funded education, and we've complied with the constitution."

Braun also acknowledged that Friday will be another long day in Olympia, as lawmakers hammer out final details and work to get the budget passed in time to avoid a partial government shutdown.

 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2017 KING-TV


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