News

Proposal calls for $877 million increase for school spending

By MIKE HALLIDAY

The Mirror

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson is proposing that Washington spend more money –– in the area of $877 million –– on schools during the 2005-07 budget cycle.

The total budget proposal of more than $12 billion includes a $190 million increase of the state’s Learning Assistance Program (LAP) for districts and schools to give extra help to low-income and struggling students.

Bergeson’s proposal also addresses basic-education funding, an issue in which Federal Way Public Schools has taken legal action against the state.

“Educators have clearly demonstrated their commitment to improving our schools,” Bergeson said. “The only piece missing for us to go all the way with student achievement is ample funding.”

Having enough cash is the challenge.

The state is still recovering from a weak economy and a budget deficit two years ago of more than $2 billion.

Marty Brown, director of the state’s Office of Financial Management, said the state’s revenue flow is at the level it was four years ago, which is good and bad. It means the state has $1.5 billion more than it did for the last budget, but the state is looking at being about $1 billion in the red.

There are two more forecasts of the state’s economic health that will determine Washington’s revenue stream and how it will get spent. Both forecasts come out in November, with one detailing how many students are enrolled, prison population and residents needing state-funded medical assistance. Those areas have to be paid for by the state. The second report will give a final indication of the state’s revenue stream and whether it’s growing.

All agencies have requests in their budgets, but not everything is going to get funded, Brown said.

Items in Bergeson’s budget request include:

• $396 million over two years for salary increases and making up for cost-of-living allowances teachers and staff members haven’t received. Voters approved Initiative 732 in 2000 for educators and staff to receive salary increases based on the cost-of-living. But when the state’s finances went on red alert, the Legislature froze the increases.

The teacher’s union, Washington Education Association (WEA), has been critical of the state for not fulfilling the voter’s wishes when I-732 was passed.

• An additional $12 million over two years for stipends to acknowledge teachers who have increased their knowledge and skills.

• A $338 million increase over two years for basic education so districts don’t have to tap their own levy funds.

Federal Way Public Schools and other districts are threatening to sue the state if the Legislature doesn’t completely fund special education, which court rulings have determined is a part of basic education.

The Legislature will begin hashing out the state’s budget in January.

In Tuesday’s general election, Bergeson ran for re-election against Judith Billings. Both candidates support I-732 and Initiative 728. Voters approved the latter measure to lower class size in public schools by using tax dollars to create more classrooms.

Staff writer Mike Halliday: 925-1414, mhalliday@fedwaymirror.com

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