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Lottery funds could be the ticket for new classrooms

From Safeco Stadium to the Qwest Field and Exhibition Center in Seattle, lottery revenue has been the winning ticket for various cash-starved state accounts. A proposal in the Legislature would turn lottery proceeds into new classrooms across Washington State.

In 2000, voters approved Initiative 728, a measure that directed lottery revenue from the state general fund for K-12 education, including class-size reduction. If the bill is passed, $707 million in lottery-backed bonds would be used to finance the construction of K-3 classrooms.

“This isn't the Republican solution or the Democratic solution—it's the right thing to do," said Rep. Drew MacEwen, R-Union, a co-sponsor of the proposal. “We cannot continue to advocate for smaller class sizes in K-3 classrooms without funding the construction that allows for the required reductions.”

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction estimates 8,150 teachers for K-3 education and 3,500 classrooms would be needed to fully address the state’s McCleary obligations.

In the McCleary v. Washington decision in 2012, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state was not sufficiently funding education. K-3 class size reduction was one of the priorities outlined by the court. According to a court order dated Jan. 9 this year, an estimated $700 million would be needed to fully fund all-day kindergarten and K-3 class-size reduction.

House Bill 2797 passed out of the House 90-7 last week with strong bipartisan support. The bill would help get classrooms ready as districts begin reducing class sizes to meet McCleary obligations by 2017. School districts would be able to build K-3 classrooms at no local expense.

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction would determine where the schools and classrooms would be built, prioritizing “unhoused” K-3 students according to the 90-square-foot space per student mandated under the McCleary decision.

"Kids need classrooms," said Rep. Hans Dunshee, D-Snohomish, chair of the Capital Budget Committee and prime sponsor of the bill.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn expressed his disappointment with both budgets that were announced last week. He estimated about $400 million would be needed to keep the state on track for full funding of the McCleary decision by 2018.

“Any additional money the legislators want to appropriate for basic education is welcome,” Dorn said.

 

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