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Government and Politics

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.