Spokane lawmaker proposes redefining ‘basic education’

OLYMPIA - Calling it a real game-changer, Sen. Michael Baumgartner this past Thursday introduced a bill to redefine what “basic education” means in Washington.

Baumgartner’s bill, dubbed the “3-2-1 Plan,” is being hailed as the first thoughtful approach to dealing with a recent Supreme Court decision that the legislature is underfunding education.

“Not only will the 3-2-1 Plan significantly improve educational outcomes for early-learning students as well as provide an unprecedented opportunity for Washington students to go to college,” said Baumgartner, “but it creates a better definition of education on which we can build the world-class, 21-century education system that our kids deserve.”

The measure would triple early-learning funding by the 2018 (the “3” in Baumgartner’s plan), cut higher education tuition at the state’s top colleges and universities by half (the “2” in the plan) and focus on reducing class sizes in first grade (the “1”) and kindergarten.

Baumgartner (R-Spokane) says the plan makes better use of education funding by redirecting it away from second-grade and third-grade class sizes and instead channeling it into pre-kindergarten, making college affordable and getting a great teacher in every classroom.

The diverted resources would be spent on school districts located in higher-poverty areas of the state as well as reward the top 1,200 school teachers in the state by granting them $100,000 salaries for two years (competitively renewable every two years).

“The overall plan is not a reduction in education funding compared to 2009’s House Bill 2261 upon which the state Supreme Court’s decision is based,” Baumgartner said. “It’s just a smarter, more thoughtful way to approach funding education in Washington.”

3 - Early learning is scheduled to be an entitlement by 2018-19 for all three- and four-year-olds below 110 percent of the federal poverty level.

The 3-2-1 plan would expand eligibility to 150 percent of the federal poverty level, thereby tripling the money spent by accommodating roughly 6,800 additional students.

2 - Additionally, Baumgartner’s “Debt-Free Degree Act” (proposed earlier this year as Senate Bill 6043) would cap tuition costs at state colleges and universities at 10 percent of the state’s average wage.

While the state would then be responsible for an additional $190 million each year, Baumgartner’s bill would make up the difference with projected revenue increases and marijuana sales tax income.

1 - Baumgartner added the Washington State Institute for Public Policy has research showing a 97 percent chance of a positive return on investing in lower class sizes for kindergarten and 84 percent for first grade.

But those figures drop to only 65 percent for second grade and 55 percent for third. Eliminating the requirement for class size reduction in grades two and three is projected to save over $600 million in the 2017-19 biennia…money that would then be redirected toward high-poverty schools and rewarding the state’s top teachers with a two-year, $100,000 annual salary grant.


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