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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Inslee undecided on Spokane med school, nothing in current budget plan

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee is undecided on how medical school education should expand in Spokane. The budget he will unveil Thursday and send next month to the Legislature currently has no new money for medical school plans by either of the state's two research universities.

“At this point we're not saying yes or no to the medical school in Spokane,” Budget Director David Schumacher said a few hours before Inslee was scheduled to discuss his priorities for public schools and colleges at internet-connected town hall meetings. . . 

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. . . Washington State University wants to take the first steps toward creating its own medical school and the University of Washington wants to expand the number of students it currently has in Spokane. The WSU proposal would require a change in policy, and both plans would require more money: $2.5 million for WSU and $8 million for UW.

The first look Monday at Inslee's education policy and budget priorities had nothing for either plan. It proposes an extra $3 million for “targeted health professions funding” which it said would help address shortages of trained medical and mental health providers. But that's not directed at expanding the number of medical students in Spokane.

Inslee’s staff said more discussion on the issue is needed before a decision is made.

Senate Republicans, who control that chamber, were critical of several aspects of Inslee's education plans for not having enough details.

Inslee seemed to be preparing the public for a tax increase to pay for education programs, when they believe there's enough money from current taxes to expand education, Sen. Bruce Dammeier, of Puyallup, said. But they, too, would not take a position on the medical school controversy.

“It’s way too premature to know the answer to that question,” Dammeier said.

A spokesman for WSU said the university hasn’t seen full details of the governor’s budget and wouldn’t comment “until we see the whole thing.”

Other Inslee education proposals for the 2015-17 budget include:

  • Continuing the freeze on tuition levels for the state’s public universities, colleges and community colleges at current levels, that started in the fall 2013. He also wants to increase funding for state aid to college students
  •  Cost-of-living raises for teachers and other school employees that are required by a voter-approved initiative, but suspended by the Legislature and Inslee or his predecessor for most years during the recession;
  • Reducing the number of pupils in kindergarten through Grade 3 classes by the 2016-17 school year to 17, from current levels that range from 20 to 25 depending on local income levels;
  •  Making full-day kindergarten available statewide;
  •  Increased money from the state to public school districts for maintenance, supplies and operations costs;
  •  Increased money for early childhood education.

He will announce his plans for transportation programs Tuesday, for environmental programs Wednesday, and a full budget that spells out where extra money would come from on Thursday. Last week Schumacher said the budget will propose a combination in cuts to current state programs and as much as $1 billion in tax increases.

The governor’s budget is one of the first steps in a long process of setting spending for the 2015-17 budget cycle. The House and Senate will also propose budgets that may be significantly different, and all three will have to reach a compromise on a spending plan that can pass both chambers and get Inslee’s signature. Programs can be added or deleted from state agencies and institutions throughout the process.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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