By Josefina Hellensberg
A few days after the regular legislative session wrapped up, the special session kicked into full force on April 29. Now we watch as the debate continues in this (and perhaps a second) special session and the budget is finalized.
The League of Education Voters (LEV) hosted a series of Lunchtime LEVinars to keep voters updated on the proposed budgets from the House of Representatives and the Senate, and the effects that they have on education in our state. Although each budget proposal have differences in how they fund education, they both make huge investments in our public education system, and regardless of how the final budget comes together, the outcome will be promising for students throughout Washington state.
In our webinar series, we heard from Senator Andy Hill and Representative Ross Hunter, lead budget writers for the Senate and House budgets, respectively. Senator Hill and Representative Hunter each discussed their respective budget proposals and answered audience questions. The series wrapped up with a presentation from LEV’s own Government Relations Director Frank Ordway on the strengths of each proposal, along with areas that LEV hopes will be better funded in the budget by the time negotiations are finalized.
Frank says that the investments in both proposals are similar and direct considerable funding toward early learning, K–12 funding, fulfilling McCleary requirements, and higher education. The House budget has presented a proposal that funds early learning more robustly than the Senate’s proposal, with $227 million compared to the proposed $100 million in the Senate’s budget. With respect to K–12 investments, the Senate has worked hard to ensure that more of those dollars go toward increased services for students, something that we do not see as clearly in the House budget.
Another big difference in the two proposals is the investments in higher education. Two years ago, we saw a tuition freeze in our state, and this session the Senate has proposed a tuition decrease, which would be the first tuition reduction in Washington since the 1970s. The House budget continues the tuition freeze.
Both budget proposals include investments and prioritizations that we agree with, but we are watching closely as the Legislatures grapples with levy reform, which will be a central part of the debate as we get closer to a final deal.