House GOP budget adds $550 million to education

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Republicans in the state House want lawmakers to add about $550 million to K-12 education this year as the first step in a multi-billion-dollar effort to fully fund classrooms.

Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia, unveiled his proposal Thursday that contained only one area of tax revenue - a plan centered around ending a tax break for residential telephone services. His budget proposal would block teacher cost-of-living increases, shorten the amount of time low-income families can get assistance and cut state agency budgets further.

"I'm convinced that when we finish up (this session), we can balance this budget with reforms, resizing and reduction - without new tax increases," Alexander said.

Some lawmakers have argued that the state needs to add some $1 billion to education this year in order to satisfy the Supreme Court's funding mandate, and the Legislature is looking to add an estimated $4.5 billion to K-12 education dollars by 2018.

Alexander's plan includes adding about $800 million to programs like class-size reduction and full-day kindergarten in response to a state Supreme Court ruling that says the state isn't adequately funding basic education. However, his budget plan would also suspend automatic cost-of-living increases for teachers, saving some $300 million.

Elsewhere in the budget, the GOP would extend an assessment on state hospitals to help pay for Medicaid services. Alexander also embraces President Barack Obama's health care reform to help balance the budget, saying that he expects the Medicaid expansion is here to stay and that it will save the state money for years to come.

"I don't know how to do this without utilizing it," Alexander said. "I think I should."

Alexander said he would shorten the amount of time financially struggling families can get support under the state's so-called WorkFirst program from five years to four years.

Democrats in the House and both caucuses in the Senate are expected to release their budget proposals in the coming weeks.