OLYMPIA – Lawmakers face a difficult task of sorting through two very different plans to improve Washington’s public schools and change the way it pays for them after the House passed its version of education reform Wednesday.
On a party-line vote, House Democrats pushed through their plan, which would increase the amount the state spends on each student, offer more assistance for poor students and those whose primary language isn’t English, raise salaries and offer other incentives to beginning teachers, reduce class sizes for technical education and increase the number of guidance counselors.
“Is it perfect? No. Do we have a lot of work to do? We absolutely do,” Rep. Kristine Lytton, D-Anacortes, said. But she urged House members to vote for it to begin serious negotiations with the Senate, where Republicans approved a very different plan three weeks ago.
But Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, argued the Democrats’ bill wasn’t really a plan because it doesn’t provide the money to do the things it proposes.
“There’s no funding behind it and it spends $6 billion,” Harris said. Without explaining where that money will come from, the public will lose trust in the Legislature, he added.
The two-hour debate over the bill and seven amendments gave lawmakers a chance to reiterate complaints each party has about the other’s approach to finding a solution for improving public schools, which the Legislature has been ordered to do by the state Supreme Court.
For weeks, Republicans have criticized the House plan for not spelling out what taxes would be raised to pay for all of its features. Democrats have countered that tax decisions will be made in later budget discussions, adding that the Senate GOP plan also doesn’t account for the extra money it would spend, either by tax increases or cuts to existing state programs.
One change to the plan from House Republicans did meet with unanimous approval. Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, said the state should make sure that money sent to the schools to produce smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade is used for that purpose, rather than siphoned off for something else.
“We better be able to deliver on what we promised,” Manweller said.
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