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Highlights from Gov. Jay Inslee’s education budget proposal

Gov. Jay Inslee has a plan for putting $2.3 billion more into preschool through college education and workforce training and for meeting the state's obligation to the Supreme Court a year early. But he won't say where he's going to get the money until Thursday, when he releases his full budget proposal. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Gov. Jay Inslee is unveiling his budget ideas this week. He started going over dollars for education on Monday night.

Some of the highlights include two more years without a college tuition increase, more money for college scholarships, dollars for state-funded preschool, raises for teachers, and money to reduce class sizes.

The governor proposed $1.3 billion to reduce average class sizes in kindergarten through third grade. That also includes funding full-day kindergarten statewide.

Reducing class sizes was the point of Initiative 1351 approved by voters in November, all in an effort to improve student learning.

However, Inslee’s proposal doesn’t quite meet the standard of 1351, which wants K-through-12 class sizes reduced. Inslee only accounts for kindergarten through third grade.

“We’re focusing first on the K-through-3 area where it has the most success as far as bang for your buck,” Inslee said.

That it has the most success and the most bang for your buck is still up for debate, but he’s legally bound to try now.

The Washington Policy Center cites research from the Center for American Progress, the Brookings Institute and Stanford, who reviewed hundreds of education studies on the effects of reducing class sizes and found that only 15 percent of students showed statistically significant benefits.

Let’s spin this towards the positive. That means, if class sizes are reduced to the initiative-approved number of 25 students, that’s 3.75 students per class who might improve their grades.

Two other states have tried and failed to improve student learning through reduced class sizes: California and Florida. They scrapped the program in the 90s when it didn’t work.

And here’s food for thought: in South Korea, the average class size is 36, yet these students routinely outperform U.S. students on assessment tests.

So, if classroom sizes won’t do it, will the teachers?

The good news is, Inslee did consider the teachers and proposed $595 million to give our current teachers a raise. No doubt our teachers are due for a raise, but does money make a good teacher?

Stanford concluded that money is better spent retaining teachers with proven effectiveness in the classroom and recruiting others. They found a good teacher provides about a year and a half of learning to students, while ineffective teachers provide only half a year of learning over the same time period.

But it all feels good, doesn’t it? Children get smaller classroom sizes, teachers get more money. So where is this money going to come from? Inslee wouldn’t say.

The governor is going to make you wait until Thursday before he unveils how he’ll raise more than $1 billion in taxes and “other new revenue.”

Republican Senator Bruce Dammeier of Puyallup warned that raising taxes to fund education – like, say, a carbon-tax that might be unveiled at Inslee’s environmental budget proposal on Wednesday – is fundamentally flawed.

And, if you read the fine print of 1351, you saw that it allows school districts to increase local property taxes by $1.9 billion through 2019.

If you’re happy with all of this, good. If you’re not, well just know that the governor’s proposals are the start of the budget debates in Olympia. The House and Senate will craft their own budget proposals during the upcoming session, which starts in January.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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