Well, we made it! With the passage of the 2015-2017 operating budget and a new 16-year transportation package, the House and Senate have finally adjourned for the year. By closing several tax loopholes, and with an economy in recovery, we were able to pass budgets that fund our state’s biggest priorities! Of course compromises had to be made to pass this budget, but the people of Washington State will undoubtedly benefit from the investments we are making in early learning, k-12 education, mental health, tuition cuts, transportation, the safety net and more.
Below is a summary of some important budget items we passed this session that I’m particularly excited about. Look for my next email where I’ll share more details about the transportation and capital budgets as well as our investments in the high tech marketplace.
Investing in Education – From Early Learning through High School Graduation
- $100+ million in quality early learning programs included in the Early Start Act
- All day kindergarten fully funded statewide
- Smaller class sizes grades K-3
- A significant cost of living increase for teachers
- Supplies and other operating costs fully funded
- New teacher training and mentoring programs
- Financial literacy curriculum, and
- Computer science classes and teacher training.
I’m also happy we’re moving forward on a small funding, but large impact, item social emotional learning (SEL). The appropriation ensures Washington takes its first steps toward a statewide implementation of social emotional learning by creating benchmarks for K-12. For those of you who aren’t familiar with SEL, I encourage you to check out a previous legislative update and video HERE.
Higher Education – Graduation and Beyond
We reduced tuition by 5% for ALL college students. The reductions will expand the following year with an additional decrease ranging from 10% to 15% depending on the institution. The original plan coming from the Senate didn’t include community and technical colleges like our own Bellevue College or Renton Technical College, but House Democrats strongly believed that if we were going to cut tuition for some, we needed to cut tuition for all. We fought hard and now all students will see a reduction in their tuition.
To ensure that our higher-ed students graduate with the skills they’ll need to succeed in the new economy, we are investing an additional $41 million in scholarships for high-demand majors in science, technology, engineering, math and health care and made significant investments in computer science.
Social Services and Mental Health
During the Great Recession, legislators had to make some extremely difficult funding decisions, leaving many important safety net programs stripped to the bone. Now that the economy has begun to recover, the state has a moral duty to restore funding to these programs to ensure that those in need aren’t left in the cold. We’ve managed to make good progress on restoring funding and fixing our broken mental health system. We added:
- $31 million to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program
- $11 million to the State Food Assistance program
- $75 million in the Housing Trust Fund
- $100 million in mental health care funding to regional support networks and other mental health programs
- Expanded outpatient treatment for psychiatric care for people to get the help they need, without being committed unnecessarily to a mental health institution.
- Passed Joel’s Law, so that families can petition the court to reconsider decisions involving involuntary commitment and get their loved ones the help they require.
- Extended services for all foster kids now to the age of 21.
Although it was an extra long session this year, when I look back at all of our investments and major victories for education and social services, I know it was worth the fight. And please, keep an eye out for my next email where I’ll share more information about our victories in transportation, the economy and the capital budget.
As always, thank you for all the advocacy e-mails, phone calls, and letters I’ve received over the past few weeks; making your voice heard is essential to the work we do here – so keep it up!
If you have any specific questions about a bill or budget items outcome, please don’t hesitate to write and ask.