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A last-ditch effort to shore up state education funding

Democrat Jim Hargrove has reservations about the Hill bill. Credit: John Stang

A new bill that would move the state towards allocating two-thirds of any revenue growth to education is headed to a full Washington Senate vote. The bill, which was recommended for passage by the Senate Ways and Means Committee Monday, would set a November public referendum on the issue.

The bill, by Sen. Andy Hill, R-Redmond, would create a referendum to route two-thirds of any new state general funds to early learning programs, K-12 and higher education. How the extra education revenue would be divided among those three areas is yet to be determined, Hill said.

"We actually have mixed feelings about this on our side," said Sen. James Hargrove, D-Hoquiam and the ranking Democrat on the committee. Hargove said more long-term funding is needed for education, but the committee's ten Democrats voted against the bill because of worries about how much that two-thirds proposal would cut into health care appropriations.

Hill and other Republican committee members said his bill would begin reversing a decade of legislative priorities in which education had received less than half of the state operations budget.

Ways & Means Committee staff calculated that, if approved, the measure would raise an extra $9 billion for education over the next eight years. Other staff figures predict the bill would raise an extra $300 million for early learning, K-12 education and higher education in 2015-2017; an extra $1.6 billion in in 2017-2019; and an extra $3.5 billion in 2019-2021.

A 2012 Supreme Court ruling — dubbed the McCleary Decision — has called on lawmakers to find $3 billion to $3.5 billion in extra revenue for massive improvements in Grades K-3 between 2015 and 2019. Hill's bill would raise $1.9 billion during that period for early learning, K-12 education and higher education; only a fraction of that would actually go towards improvements mandated by the McCleary Decision.

Neither the Ways & Means staff's calculations nor the McCleary ruling account for reviving long-dormant teacher cost-of-living raises.

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