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New Wash. Senate Majority Will Not Promise $1B More For Schools

Austin Jenkins
Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A big shake-up in the control of the Washington state senate could have major implications for how lawmakers address funding for schools next year. A coalition of Republicans and two breakaway Democrats announced Monday it has just enough votes to depose the current Democratic majority.

The chair of the Washington Democratic party calls it a “coup” and a “prescription for instability and division.” But former Republican turned Democrat Rodney Tom -- who will lead the new majority coalition -- says voters want governing from the middle.

“This is a great day for Washington state,” Tom insists.

At a Capitol news conference, Tom immediately ruled out new taxes. The idea has been floated to help address a $1 billion budget shortfall and to make a down payment on what’s known as the McCleary case. That’s a recent Washington Supreme Court ruling that found the state is not adequately funding public education.

But Tom would not commit to another $1 billion for schools in the next two-year budget.

“One thing that I think all of us are very clear about is McCleary is not just about dollars.”

In a follow up interview, Tom said this new majority will focus more on overhauling how students are taught.

“You know I was just down in California looking at a couple charter schools there. Some of the toughest areas in the San Jose area. These guys are doing phenomenal. And these guys are doing it on $7,000 [per student] a year.”

But David Frockt, also a Democratic state senator, had a different take away from that trip.

“I was on that trip with Rodney. I visited those schools," he said. “They are educating kids on $7,000 and those classrooms were very, very crowded. There are some good things going in those classrooms, don’t get me wrong. But to say money is no element of this I think is completely misguided.”

Frockt believes to comply with the Supreme Court the 2013 Washington legislature will have to come up with more than $1 billion in new money for schools in the next two year budget. He says he hasn’t seen a way to do that without additional dollars.

Outgoing Governor Chris Gregoire plans to propose a new dedicated fund for education before leaving office. But Democratic Governor-elect Jay Inslee campaigned on a no new taxes platform.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."