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Education vs. social services? House debates funding priorities

Ted S. Warren
AP Photo
Students at Salmon Bay School in Seattle. The house voted to cut $42 million from programs to reduce class sizes in grades K-4.

Lawmakers face stark choices when it comes to the budget. Those choices were on display Monday as the House voted on a cost-cutting bill. Democrats and Republicans split over what to cut next: education or social services.

House Republicans have a mantra: fund education first. So, here’s how they would cut state spending in the remaining months of the fiscal year:

  • eliminate the Basic Health Plan
  • eliminate Disability Lifeline
  • eliminate and health care for children whose citizenship has not been documented

Majority Democrats instead voted to retroactively cut $42 million from programs to reduce class sizes in grades K-4.
Republican Ed Orcutt blasted that choice:

“Retroactive cuts to our schools doesn’t do anything to fund our paramount duty which is education.”

Technically, funding to reduce class sizes is not constitutionally protected.

Democrats like Representative Pat Sullivan defended the decision to put social services ahead of some education funding:

“A student who comes to school hungry or cold or sick has a greatly diminished capacity to learn.”

The current two-year budget is $600 million in the hole. The bill approved by the House would cut the shortfall by more than half.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.