Gov. Jay Inslee declared tonight that education must be the top priority for the 2015 Legislature, saying it’s past time for the state to meet its moral and constitutional obligations to Washington students. The governor said his plan would strengthen the school system from preschool to higher education so Washington students can attain diplomas, degrees and job training.
The governor previewed his plan in an online town hall meeting with parents, educators and students in Bellevue, Moses Lake, Spokane and Tacoma. Inslee said he intends to aggressively pursue improvements at all levels of education, from a significant expansion in early learning and all-day kindergarten to a freeze on public college tuition and additional financial aid to help keep college affordable.
The governor’s education agenda is a key part of his effort to reinvest in Washington and boost the state’s economy. It would provide state funding for more than 7,000 additional teachers and prepare students for the jobs of today and of the future.
Along with a financing plan that the governor will propose Thursday, the policies outlined tonight will take a significant step toward addressing the state Supreme Court’s finding that the state has failed to adequately fund basic education, which Washington’s Constitution says is the state’s paramount duty. In the McCleary case, the court earlier this year held the state in contempt after the Legislature did not make adequate progress on a funding plan.
“This plan will allow Washington to take important steps toward getting out from under the court’s unprecedented contempt citation that rightfully shone a spotlight on the failure to address our lack of adequate K-12 funding,” Inslee said. “But we have more than a legal obligation. This is the right thing for our students, as is a continuum of investments in early learning and keeping higher education affordable.”
“Investments in K-12 alone won’t cut it. We need to make sure kids are ready to learn before they enter kindergarten, and prepared to go to work or go to college after they graduate from high school.”
Inslee’s $2.3 billion education package would include the largest-ever state investment in early learning and results in the largest increases in basic education funding in nearly a quarter century. As recently as 2007, public schools accounted for less than 39 percent of Near General Fund spending. Under Inslee’s proposal, public schools’ share of state spending increases to 47 percent.
- Offer more opportunities for Washington’s youngest learners. Inslee proposes $156.3 million in early learning funding that will add more than 6,300 children in the state’s preschool program for low-income children, improve child care quality with more provider training, deliver such supports as physical or speech therapy to children who need them and expand the state’s highly successful home-visitation services for expectant and new parents needing support and guidance.
- Increase basic education funding to reduce class sizes in early grades, implement full-day kindergarten statewide and adequately cover school operational costs, including special education. In fact, this $1.3 billion investment would put Washington on track to fully implement House Bill 2776, the basic education funding reform bill passed in 2010, one year ahead of schedule.
- Decrease the opportunity gap and increase high school graduation rates. Today, only 65 percent of our state’s low-income, African American and Hispanic high school students graduate on time. For Native American students, that rate is 52 percent. Graduation rates for foster children and homeless children are even lower. Inslee proposes $87.4 million in various services for at-risk children and their families that are proven to help keep students on track through elementary, middle and high school.
- Support high-quality teaching and leadership in schools. From mentoring for 7,200 first-year teachers to more instructional training for math and science subjects, Inslee proposes $30.4 million to support teachers and principals in areas they need it most.
- Invest in educator compensation. Due to the recession, the Legislature has repeatedly suspended or underfunded cost-of-living increases under Initiative 732. Inslee fully funds I-732, and an additional salary increase, providing educators with their first state-funded pay increase since 2008.
- Maintain higher education access and affordability. Inslee proposes continuing the freeze on resident, in-state tuition at all public higher education institutions. He also adds more than 5,500 new student slots to the state’s successful College Bound program and 12,000 more students in the state’s Opportunity Scholarship program, a public-private partnership for low- and middle-income students pursuing STEM or health care degrees.
- Boost higher education attainment and training. Inslee proposes $30.4 million to expand various STEM and computer science programs at state universities and colleges, boost job training and basic education for adults without a high school diploma and more.
The governor’s budget director said last week that additional revenue of more than $1 billion will be needed to balance the 2015–17 biennial budget. The governor will release details of that plan Thursday in Olympia.
“There’s been considerable discussion these past two years about the need to increase education funding, to reform the system and to put children first, but there hasn’t been enough action,” Inslee said. “While we continue to look for every possible saving and efficiency, the math simply tells us we cannot cut our way out of this. Education is our top priority but not our only priority. I will not fund education at the expense of mental health. I will not cut funding for foster care caseworkers. Today there are 36,000 homeless children in our schools, and I will not cut programs that are making sure that number decreases instead of increases.”