Spokane Journal of Business

Funding education tops legislative priority list

Legislature still grapples with McCleary court ruling

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With the deadline approaching in the upcoming biennium for the Legislature to meet basic education funding requirements, local groups will look to lawmakers to focus on following through with earlier funding commitments.

Due to the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision that requires more funding for education, the state earlier this year estimated the cost to fund K-12 basic education fully will be $19.7 billion for the 2017-19 biennium.

The estimate, however, doesn’t include the cost to fund salaries fully.

That’s one of the top legislative priorities for schools, says Mark Anderson, Spokane Public Schools’ associate superintendent for school support services.

SPS is calling for the Legislature to provide competitive compensation for basic education staff, including the cost of recruitment, retention, and professional development.

Currently, local school levies pick up about 20 percent of the cost of such compensation and 50 percent of the compensation for support staff, he asserts.

The Legislature also hasn’t addressed facility funding in light of new class-size restrictions and statewide full-day kindergarten. Anderson asserts that the Spokane district alone needs four more elementary schools or three more middle schools to address those issues.

“School districts, including Spokane, are having to fund basic education facilities,” Anderson says, although he adds that the state Supreme Court has indicated that facilities also should be part of basic education funding.

Greater Spokane Incorporated, which acts as the Spokane area’s chamber of commerce and economic development agency, supports such education priorities and also urges to the Legislature to ensure that educators have resources to incorporate science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) skills throughout the K-12 system.

“When we talk about K-12 education and the McCleary decision, that’s all-inclusive,” says Todd Mielke, CEO of GSI. “Specific parts we take a look at are job preparation for the workforce. It starts early in the K-12 system, when you have second graders doing robotics and programming.”

In regard to expanding access to post-secondary education, GSI is calling for fully funding state needs grants, funding for STEM-focused scholarships, and expansion of STEM degrees and programs.

Medical education

Funding requests from Spokane-based medical school programs at Washington State University and the University of Washington are high on the universities’ respective priority lists.

Washington State University is requesting $10.8 million in 2017-2019 biennium to support 60 first-year and 60 second-year medical students at the new Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine on the WSU Spokane campus.

The college recently obtained preliminary accreditation for the medical school, and the university expects to admit its inaugural class next August.

Lisa Brown, chancellor at WSU Spokane, says the medical-school request is the university’s top operating-budget funding request.

“We have always had great local support from our legislative delegation and pretty widespread support around the state,” she says.

The University of Washington School of Medicine is requesting $9.8 million for the 2017-2019 biennium to expand WWAMI classes here from 60 to 80 medical students per class.

UW also is seeking $2 million to add a second year of dental curriculum for its Regional Initiatives Dental Education program at Eastern Washington University.

In higher educational capital funding, GSI supports Eastern Washington University’s request for construction funding for the Interdisciplinary Science Center to be located on the Cheney campus.

The total project cost is estimated at $60.5 million.

The building would replace EWU’s 47-year old science building with a center that would support biology, chemistry, geology, physics, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs.

Washington State University Spokane is requesting $4.9 million to renovate the Center for Clinical Research and Simulation to accommodate growing demand for clinical research and active learning, Brown says.

Transportation

In regard to transportation projects, Mielke says, “Job one is to protect funding for the region’s most significant transportation project, expansion of the North Spokane Corridor.”

In 2015, the Legislature approved $750 million in funding in annual increments to complete the freeway from the Freya-Francis interchange south to a planned interchange at Interstate 90 by about 2030.

So far, the north half of the 10.5-mile corridor, from the north junction with U.S. 2 at Wandermere south to Freya-Francis, has been completed at a cost of $615 million.

GSI also urges that any savings in project phases be directed toward future phases until the project is complete.

The city of Spokane Valley is seeking $26 million in future funding for a Barker Road/BNSF grade separation project that would replace an at-grade crossing with an overpass of BNSF Railway Co. tracks. The total project cost is estimated at $36 million, and the city has secured nearly $10 million for the project.

The city of Spokane is seeking $4.6 million toward resurfacing and reconstruction of bridges within Riverfront Park, to leverage the city’s $22 million investment through the voter-approved Riverfront Park bond measure, says Councilwoman Amber Waldref.

Other transportation priorities include road straightening and widening for Bigelow Gulch Road and Forker Road, and new passing lanes on portions of state Route 904 in west Spokane County, U.S. 395 in north Spokane County, and state Route 290 in east Spokane County.

Other priorities

The city of Spokane is supporting a request by the East Central Community Center Dental Clinic for up to $1 million from the capital budget to match other funding to partner with a federally qualified health center to provide additional low-income dental care.

The Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center is seeking funding assistance in its capital campaign to raise $3.3 million to expand its Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program.

Spokane and other cities are seeking funding for integrated water plans. Last year, a state fund was depleted before Spokane could receive $4.8 million it had been awarded in state stormwater grants to protect the Spokane River, Waldref says.

Spokane is among cities seeking funding for supervision of property crime offenders to reduce recidivism. “We would like to get a pilot program in a couple of places, including Spokane,” Waldref says.

The city also is joining other jurisdictions in seeking foreclosure process optimization.

“Here in Spokane, in low-income to moderate-income neighborhoods, I’ve seen some foreclosures take up to three or four years,” Waldref says. “We’re working on trying to speed up the foreclosure process.”

Mike McLean
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Deputy Editor Mike McLean has worked his entire journalism career in the Inland Northwest. Mike, who also lives to reel in fish and crank up music, has worked for the Journal since 2006.

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