Republican leaders in the state Senate have released statements expressing support for the Senate’s proposed state operating budget.
Under the proposed Senate budget for the 2023-2025 biennium, the state operating budget would total $69.2 billion, for a $5.1 billion increase in spending over the 2021-2023 biennium. An estimated $3.7 billion would be kept in reserve in the state’s rainy day fund and other accounts over the state’s four-year budget outlook.
State Senate Republican Leader John Braun, R-Centralia, called the proposed budget “bipartisan,” and offered praise for the increased education funding in the proposal. In his statement, Braun said the budget proposal includes almost $70 million for recovery from COVID-19 pandemic-related learning loss and an additional $800 million for special education funding.
“We know that learning loss has become a huge problem in our public school system in the wake of school closures and remote instruction during the height of the pandemic. Our kids were kept home for too long,” Braun said. “Recently, only a little more than half of Washington’s schoolchildren passed the English-assessment test and less than a third passed the math assessment. Our education system has slipped from one of the best in the nation to the middle of the pack. That’s unacceptable.”
Braun said COVID-19 related learning loss has disproportionately affected students of color, students receiving special education services and students from low income households. According to Braun, providing funds to combat learning loss is part of the Senate Republicans’ three priorities for the legislative session, along with public safety and affordability. Braun called learning loss the “equity issue of our time,” and thanked Senate budget writers for help in working to solve the problem through increased funding.
“I’m especially pleased that the Senate budget would make such a significant long-term investment in special education,” Braun said. “Among other enhancements for special education, this budget would provide money to ensure every child in Washington’s special-education programs would have an advocate. It could be a game-changer for many of our students.”
Under the Senate’s budget proposal for the 2023-2025 biennium, the state would spend $57 million to create a competitive grant pool where school districts can submit plans to advance student progress and address learning loss. The proposal also includes $7 million for tutoring and $2 million for an “innovative and interactive” mathematics instructional tool.
State Sen. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, called the proposed budget the “most inclusive budget proposal we’ve seen in many years,” though she said the proposal failed to be “truly bipartisan.”
“The majority has no obligation to consider input from the minority, yet our Democratic counterparts allowed us to stay at the table and offer our suggestions. It’s admirable that they listened to the point of including many of the specifics we requested,” said Wilson, who serves as the Republican budget leader in the state Senate. “A Republican budget would look different in several areas, but there are still a lot of items to like in here … (including) funding for learning-loss grants to school districts, increased Medicaid reimbursements to providers, a response to the nursing shortage, and much more.”
According to Wilson, there was a notable level of openness and collaboration in developing the budget proposal. She said she was pleased to see the budget wouldn’t create new taxes in addition to those already being implemented. Wilson said the 7.9% increase in spending for the biennium under the proposal is more than she would prefer, but argued the rate of increase is lower than in recent bienniums.
“The result of all this is a proposal that would be far better for our state as a whole than what the governor wanted for the next two years. I hope the House budget proposal is as responsible,” Wilson said.
State Sen. Chris Gildon, R-Puyallup, who serves as the assistant Republican budget leader for the operating budget in the state Senate, said he was especially pleased bipartisan cooperation allowed the budget writers to create a proposal fully funding the state government while not raising taxes.
“This was the first time in a decade that Republicans and Democrats have worked together to this degree all the way through the budget process, and I think this spirit of bipartisan cooperation is reflected in the result. Because our colleagues extended us this opportunity to be at the table, we were able to offer our input on many issues, and the final document does a good job of reflecting the priorities we share,” Gildon said. “I am sure everyone can find something in here they like, and something they don’t like, and that means we’re hitting the sweet spot. I hope the House recognizes the importance of the Senate’s balanced approach when the two chambers begin negotiating their final budget.”