Good evening from Newport High School in Bellevue, Washington. I’m here with several dozen other activists, reporters, and citizens to participate in a town hall on education with Governor Jay Inslee and his staff. The governor is using the event to unveil his plan to strengthen Washington’s schools, which his office is calling the most substantial investment in education in decades.
People are participating in the town hall from several locations via video link: Columbia Basin Technical Skills Center in Moses Lake, Rogers High School in Spokane, and Jason Lee Middle School in Tacoma.
In his introductory remarks, the governor explained that we can no longer afford to delay or postpone investing in our schools. He reminded the audience that the Supreme Court has held the state in contempt for failing to comply with Article IX of our Constitution, which declares that it is the paramount duty of Washington’s leaders to amply provide for the education of every child.
The governor is calling on the Legislature to respond by walking its talk.
“In the budget I will be releasing this Thursday, I will be proposing adding $2.3 billion to put us back on track,” Inslee said.
His K‑12 plan calls for the following:
- Early learning: Provide $79.8 million for 6,358 new spaces in the state’s preschool solution for children of low income families, and $70 million to train child care providers, which will help 50,639 more children.
- Reduce elementary school class size: $448 million will go towards reducing kindergarten, first, second, and third grade class sizes to seventeen kids, down from twenty-three kids.
- Statewide full-day kindergarten: $107 million will provide full-day kindergarten for all students in Washington.
- Materials and supplies: To ensure teachers have the tools they need, $751 million would go towards materials, supplies, and curricula.
- Professional pay for teachers: $385 million will fully fund Initiative 732 and provide a cost of living increase for teachers, in line with increases recommended for state employees.
For higher education, Inslee is calling for a tuition freeze for the 2015–2017 biennium. He wants to increase funding for the opportunity scholarship by $100 million and the college bound state need grant by $25 million.
After presenting an overview of his plan and discussing some of the highlights, Inslee began taking questions from educators and citizens at all four video-linked schools, beginning with Spokane, Tacoma, and Moses Lake.
Questions from ranged to implementing I‑1351 to potential changes to the system used for evaluating teachers to secure a waiver for No Child Left Behind.
Another question zeroed in on how the investments would be funded.
“We have a solid, fiscally sound way of financing everything we’ve talked about today,” Inslee said in response to a question about how the plan would be funded. “I can tell you it’s a real financing plan, not based on indebtedness.”
He promised to share details at a press conference on Thursday.
“The way I look at this… we really are at a fork in the road,” he said, explaining that making an investment is the way to honor our state’s finest traditional values and pursue excellence in education. The unacceptable alternative would be failing to fulfill our constitutional obligations as a state to our young people.