Republicans running the Senate Ways and Means Committee approved a bill Monday evening that would require that two-thirds of new state revenues are spent on education programs. The voice vote included several Democrats who believe the state also needs to increase revenues to meet its obligations to basic education under the Supreme Court ruling known as McCleary.
"We're looking for ways to right the ship," said Sen. Andy Hill, the committee chairman and sponsor of Senate Bill 5881. Hill, a Republican from Redmond, said the bill was also a way to create a "forcing function" on the Legislature, which had failed over 30 years to live up to its paramount constitutional duty.
The bill would impose the priority for education - which includes early learning and higher education programs not subject to the court's ruling - from July 2015 to June 2025. Ways and Means took testimony on the measure on Monday morning then voted for it during a 6:30 p.m. evening session - part of a rush to rap up work by Thursday's final day of the 60-day session.
Lawmakers face an April 30 deadline to answer the Supreme Court's latest order in January, which credited the Legislature for putting nearly $1 billion in new funds into basic education last year but also said more needed to be done this year.
The Senate Majority Coalition Caucus has contended that the state has enough money to cover its obligation out of existing funds, if it would put money for education first. Democrats have resisted, saying there is not enough money to do that without also damaging vital safety-net programs.
On Monday, Senate Democrats also issued a news release, contending their analysis shows there won't be enough new revenues even under the Republicans' two-thirds bill to fully fund K-12 schools, if cost figures from the Joint Task Force on Education Funding were followed.
Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, is among those calling for more revenues by closing tax breaks, which House Democrats also are on record as favoring.
Both sides in the partisan fight are expected to send alternative plans to the court, outlining how the state can meet its obligation to fully fund schools in time for the 2017-18 school year.