Representative Ruth Kagi, Legislative Up-Date

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March 16, 2010
Legislative Update

Dear Neighbors,

As you are no doubt aware, the regular session of the legislature adjourned last Thursday after a very intense and productive 60 days.  Unfortunately, given the daunting budget challenge we face – the worst in 80 years- a short special session was called for us to complete our work.  Before discussing the special session, I’d like to briefly summarize some major accomplishments of the session just concluded.

Progress on Education Reform

I’m thrilled that the regular session concluded on a powerful, positive step forward for education reform. As you may recall, last session we passed House Bill 2261, the most sweeping set of education reforms in 30 years. Since then a broad coalition of legislators, education officials, teachers, parents and citizens have been working on concrete ways to implement the reforms.

We ended the session by passing a package of four major education bills:

HB 2776 – K-12 education funding reform
Implements recommendations of the Quality Education Council, the state panel guiding the reforms from HB 2261. This bill reworks the funding model used by the state to make the budgeting process simpler and more transparent. It also phases in smaller class sizes for K-3rd grade by 2016 and requires increased state funding for schools’ maintenance and operation costs.

HB 2893 – K-12 education local levy capacity
Boosts school districts’ ability to collect local, voter-approved funding. It also provides an offset to the cuts made by the state last year by allowing a temporary four percent raise in the levy lid along with increased funding for levy equalization for property-poor districts.

SB 6696 – K-12 education accountability
Major provisions include a new system to turn around low-performing schools, an updated evaluation system for teachers based on student achievement, and expanded teacher preparation opportunities to help more people who want to become teachers find quality
prep programs.

HB 2731 – Early Learning
Establishes a voluntary program of early learning for eligible 3- and 4-year-olds. Funding will be phased in over the next eight years. Research shows that these early years are where education dollars can have the greatest effect- helping to ensure no child starts behind.

In addition to these important bills for basic education, I’m also very proud that my dropout re-engagement bill has been signed into law by the Governor.  The bill creates a statewide, voluntary dropout retrieval program open to 16-to-21 year olds who aren’t on track to graduate with a diploma by age 21. The program can include GED preparation, academic skills training, and college and work-readiness preparation. Community and technical colleges, community-based organizations, and educational service districts can serve as program providers. A special thanks goes out to students and administrators at Shoreline Community College who helped make this happen!

Special Session Ahead.  On March 11 the Legislature adjourned the regular session. Even with our hard work and late nights over the past two months, we need a few extra days to complete negotiations on the budget and revenue. The special session began Monday. Our focus is on responsibly balancing the budget and creating more jobs. We’re moving forward at a quick pace with the goal of wrapping up in a week.

Our state’s operating budget is a two-year plan that is crafted every odd-numbered year during a 105-day session. In the even-numbered years there is a 60 day session when the legislature typically makes minor adjustments to the budget. Unfortunately, despite the fact that we addressed a $9 billion shortfall last year and passed a balanced budget with no new taxes, economic conditions continued to deteriorate this year resulting in another major shortfall of $2.8 billion.

Solving a challenge that big is not the minor adjustment we typically deal with in a short session. The House and the Senate both developed and passed new budget proposals, and also passed revenue proposals to help balance the budget without further decimating critical services. We now need to reconcile the differences and make sure we get this done right. I’m hopeful that our final plan will address our immediate fiscal situation and help lead Washington toward long-term economic recovery.

Thank you for reading. Please stay tuned for another update once the special session concludes and contact me if you have questions or comments.

Representative Ruth Kagi


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