The following newsletter was sent to subscribers to Sen. Walsh’s Report from Olympia Feb. 3, 2017. To subscribe to Sen. Walsh’s newsletter, click here.
Under the Rotunda with 16th District seatmates: Rep. Bill Jenkin, R-Prosser, left, and Rep. Terry Nealey, R-Dayton, right.
Senate passes education plan
This week, the Senate passed an extensive education reform bill, creating a framework to address the school funding challenges facing the Legislature this session. The state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision has directed the Legislature to devise an equitable funding solution that addresses the court’s orders pertaining to basic education funding.
The Senate’s “One Washington Education Equality Act,” Senate Bill 5607, sets a standard for student funding that puts Washington in the upper ranks nationally – a guaranteed base of $12,500 per student per year. In addition, funding in excess of $12,500 is provided for students with special needs, students from low-income households, career and technical education students and homeless students. Beginning teacher pay is increased from $35,700 to $45,000 and bonuses are provided to reward excellence.
This Senate bill is the only feasible plan put forward to address the McCleary order. It avoids a capital gains income tax, which has been the most frequently proposed strategy for additional revenue. Property tax rates would be standardized across the state at $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed value. Currently, property taxes range from .73 per $1,000 to $4.69 per $1,000. Property taxes would decrease substantially in Eastern Washington school districts with the lowest property values and highest property tax rates. (Click here for a local levy chart showing the before-and-after impact on your property tax rates.) The current system disproportionately taxes property owners with lower property values, who typically are the property owners with the least ability to pay.
The plan would not be fully implemented until 2019, giving districts plenty of time for planning. We will continue working on creative solutions to address these funding challenges to ensure all students receive the support they deserve.
Better representation for foster children
To view this hearing, click here.
This week the Senate Human Services, Mental Health and Housing Committee heard testimony on a bill I have introduced that would guarantee legal representation for all children in child-welfare proceedings. Senate Bill 5363 requires courts to appoint attorneys for children in dependency cases. Typically parents are represented by legal counsel, but often their children are not, resulting in a disadvantage to those children in the courtroom. Currently, 12 Washington counties automatically appoint attorneys for children in dependency proceedings once they have reached specific age levels. This bill would provide attorneys for all children in all stages of the dependency process, regardless of their age.
During the hearing, we heard from former foster children who told heart-wrenching stories of bureaucratic indifference, forced separation from siblings, trauma and instability. Courts make decisions in child-welfare cases with consequences that can last a lifetime. We must ensure those who are most directly affected have a legal voice in these crucial decisions.
Advocating for local projects
I am working with my 16th District seatmates to seek funding in the capital budget for two high-priority projects for our area.
The Pasco Senior Center is being converted into an early learning facility.
Pasco Early Learning Center: The Pasco School District is in the midst of converting the old Pasco Senior Center into a preschool facility. The plan is to construct 10 to 15 classrooms that will serve 200 children before they reach kindergarten age. In the previous session, $300,000 was appropriated to assist with preliminary design work, but finishing the job will cost $5 million. This has been a great collaboration with the Pasco School District and others who realize the incredible need to ensure these students are prepared for their K-12 educational careers. We are requesting a $1 million state investment into this project.
The need for pre-school classrooms in Pasco is especially acute. Hundreds of students enter kindergarten each year in the Pasco School District and need additional support developing their math and reading skills. Space for preschool programs is already limited, and pressure for classroom space will increase as the state reduces class sizes in grades K-3 and moves toward all-day kindergarten. Experience demonstrates the high value of preschool programs such as these in preparing our children for success in elementary school and beyond.
Water supply in College Place: We have submitted a $900,000 capital budget request for the City of College Place that would address two failed/problematic existing wells. The request would help fund relocation and reconstruction of a new well and a looped water system main. Together these two wells account for 53 percent of the city’s water capacity. Department of Health and Department of Ecology are expected to provide additional funding.
Lastly, I recently introduced a bill to create a page scholarship program named for the late Gina Grant Bull of Walla Walla. This Union-Bulletin article explains the program in more depth. Earlier this week, the bill was passed unanimously out of committee in the Senate. Public testimony can be viewed here.
If you have questions about bills being considered by the Legislature, or general questions about state government, I encourage you to get in touch with me. You can do so using the contact information below.
I look forward to hearing from you.