The Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee voted to advance an education funding bill Thursday that has a different deadline than a version approved by the House.
The Senate bill passed on a on 5-4 vote, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
Earlier this week, the House passed an education funding bill that matches recommendations from a bipartisan task force. That bill requires the 2017 Legislature to come up with a way to end the state’s overreliance on local school levies.
The Senate committee on Thursday passed its own version of bill, amending it to change that deadline to 2018.
“It’s disappointing to me that we have now adopted an amendment on this bill that not only wasn’t agreed to, but wasn’t even discussed in a bipartisan way,” said Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, who voted no on the revised bill.
Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, said the amendment is part of a process that can be messy. “As we move forward, we shouldn’t forget where we came from,” she said, adding that the Legislature has met every deadline it has set.
“There’s still a long way to go to get it done, but I am firmly committed to the idea that one way or another we are going to get this done,” she said.
Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, said it’s typical to go “back and forth a while to make sure we have an agreement in both bodies on both sides of the aisle.” He said he’s confident the Legislature will meet the 2018 deadline.
Litzow noted that the House amended its version too.
Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said the amendments made by the House were bipartisan, while the Senate amendment is a “really big deal.”
“The underlining bill that we had before us was a carefully crafted piece of legislation that kept everybody at the table,” she said. “This amendment significantly weakens it. Many of us have been uncomfortable with the weakness of the underlining bill and this just takes it one step further in terms of lowering the bar.”
Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, voted yes on the bill, saying the changes are “quite negligible.”
He said he’d prefer to be voting on a solution to the levy problem this year. “This is a far cry short of where we should be at this point,” he said.
The bill now moves to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
At a press conference on Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee said that he remains “optimistic” that lawmakers will come together to fund public schools. He said that it is imperative that the Legislature finds a solution in 2017.
“The requirement is that the money be there for our schools in the 2017-2018 school year,” he said. “That is the date, the IOU if you will, to our children and to accomplish what needs to be done in the 2017 session.”
He added that he understands “that this is a heavy lift for legislators” and that he’s “undaunted.”