OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Washington state House Republicans on Thursday released a proposed education budget they say would preserve the 180-day school year while cutting efforts to combat bullying and enforce civil rights.
A group of GOP leaders said at a news conference that their spending plan shows they are serious about paying for K-12 education ahead of all other funding obligations.
"This is all about `what dollars do you spend first?'" said Rep. Charles Ross, R-Naches. "We're talking about funding basic education fully."
Gov. Chris Gregoire has proposed cutting the K-12 education budget by more than $330 million and then asking voters to approve a half-percent increase in the state sales tax to restore much of the funding.
Calling this the wrong approach, Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, says that education should be funded before other budget priorities are considered.
"Let (the Democrats) establish what they would like to buy back, which should not be education," Alexander said.
As the minority party in both houses of the Legislature, the Republicans do not drive the agenda in Olympia.
Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, who chairs the powerful Ways and Means Committee, said that funding education is his top priority. But tackling the education budget separately from the full budget would not be practical, he said, noting that the state is also obligated to pay for a range of priorities that include prisons, public health, and worker pensions.
"Until you look at the whole budget, you cannot say, `that's a functional budget,'" Hunter said.
The Washington Supreme Court ruled in January that the state isn't meeting its constitutional obligation to sufficiently pay for basic public education, and that the judiciary would keep an eye on lawmakers to ensure they fully implement education reforms by 2018.
An attorney for the school districts, parents and others who sued the state says the ruling means the Legislature will have to pay for education first, before any other state program or financial obligation.
In 2009, the Legislature passed a blueprint for reforming the way the state pays for education, but has yet to put any significant dollars toward adopting that plan. Although no one knows for sure, some education finance experts have put as much as a $4 billion price tag on the two-year cost of that reform plan.
Jonathan Kaminsky can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jekaminsky
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