Politics & Government

House budget expert Ross Hunter named to lead state preschool effort

Rep. Ross Hunter, the key budget writer for House Democrats, speaks on the House floor during a budget debate in June. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has named Hunter to head the state’s early childhood education efforts. He succeeds Bette Hyde, who is retiring.
Rep. Ross Hunter, the key budget writer for House Democrats, speaks on the House floor during a budget debate in June. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has named Hunter to head the state’s early childhood education efforts. He succeeds Bette Hyde, who is retiring. AP

State Rep. Ross Hunter helped write a budget that made preschool one of the fastest-growing areas of state spending.

Now the Medina Democrat will oversee the results as director of the Department of Early Learning.

Gov. Jay Inslee named Hunter Monday to replace the retiring Bette Hyde. He starts Sept. 8 and will make $150,000 a year.

Hunter is a former Microsoft executive. He has been chairman of the House budget committee since 2011.

He was one of the lawmakers most engaged in figuring out how the state should take over the cost of basic K-12 education from school districts. Lawmakers made headway this year, but haven’t tackled the biggest problem — taking over the full cost of salaries — and the state Supreme Court is fining the state $100,000 a day until they explain how they will finish the job by the 2017-2018 school year.

Separately, in early learning, lawmakers this year increased preschool funding by a third and have set a goal of serving all eligible children by the 2020-2021 school year. That requires more than doubling the 11,700 preschool slots that are funded today.

“As I transition into my new role, I look forward to continued collaboration with the Legislature towards breaking the cycle of poverty in our state through high-quality education for all,” Hunter wrote in a blog post Monday.

Hunter’s departure leaves majority Democrats in the state House in need of a new chief budget writer. They will also need a new point person on taxes if Seattle Rep. Reuven Carlyle moves to the Senate as expected. Carlyle wants to be appointed to a Senate seat, assuming Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles is elected to the King County Council this fall.

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