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WashingtonVotes NEWS: Friday, February 24, 2017.
House passes Democrats’ school funding proposal without a plan on how to pay for it.

Nearly halfway through this scheduled 105-day session, state lawmakers reached a milestone this week. Both chambers have now passed plans for increasing state funding for education, as ordered by the state Supreme Court in its McCleary decision in 2012.

The Democrats’ version of the plan, HB 1843, passed the House on Wednesday on a party-line vote of 50-47. Actually, House members voted twice, because two Republicans had inadvertently voted for the plan on the first roll call. Votes in the House are tallied and recorded via an electronic roll call machine, and the members had pushed the wrong button. The vote was retaken after a motion to reconsider.

Republicans proposed seven amendments to the measure, all but one of which were voted down along party lines. Rep. Matt Manweller (R-Ellensburg) proposed an amendment to provide that school districts may receive funding allocated for K-3 class size only to the extent of a district’s actual demonstrated K-3 class size reduction. His amendment passed 97-0.

The House proposal would raise what the state pays for beginning teachers to $45,500 and would also require the state to pay an average of $71,000 per teacher and $117,000 per school administrator. According to the most recent figures, the plan is estimated to cost about $7.6 billion over the next four years, in addition to the current state spending level for schools of about $18 billion.

During Wednesday’s floor debate, Republicans pointed out that the Democratic plan provides no details on how to pay for it. “Show me the money!” is how Rep. David Taylor (R-Moxee) put it. Rep. Paul Harris (R-Vancouver) said: “I question whether or not it’s really a serious plan.”

So far, Democratic leaders have only said they would be looking at a number of options to fund their plan, including a state income tax on capital gains and a tax on carbon emissions, which would substantially raise fuel prices for consumers and businesses.

Democrats admitted their plan lacks details, but urged House members to vote for it anyway. Rep. Kris Lytton (D-Anacortes), a prime sponsor of HB 1843 and chair of the House Finance Committee, said it is crucial for lawmakers to come up with a plan this year. “Is it perfect? No,” she said.”Do we have a lot of work to do, absolutely.” House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (D-Covington) also said the bill is a crucial first step. “Let’s sit down and figure it out for our students, but let’s start by voting for this bill.”

The Republican-led Senate approved its own education funding plan earlier this month. Agreement on a final solution will likely not be reached until House and Senate leaders work through the details of an overall two-year state spending plan, which is scheduled to be released by both chambers in the coming weeks.

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