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Originally published Tuesday, February 27, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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$1.2 billion more for education sought

The state would increase education spending by $1.2 billion over the next two years under a budget plan state legislators unveiled Monday...

Seattle Times staff reporter

OLYMPIA — The state would increase education spending by $1.2 billion over the next two years under a budget plan state legislators unveiled Monday.

The plan, released by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, represents the first time lawmakers have weighed in on the education budget this session and is expected to act as a blueprint for final budget negotiations. The state Senate is expected to release its version next month.

The House plan is in line with Gov. Christine Gregoire's proposed education budget, although some of the details differ. Most notably, the subcommittee would do away with one of Gregoire's pet projects — to spend $90 million reducing math and science class sizes in high schools and middle schools to one teacher for every 25 students.

The House plan would instead put money toward various fixes in math and science, including employing more teachers, hiring academic coaches, and awarding grants to teachers who improve their skills. The House would also spend an extra $30 million to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through third grade.

Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, who chaired the subcommittee, said the changes were the result of a philosophical difference: Legislators thought improving the quality of instruction in math and science was more important than simply reducing class sizes. She said the committee thought a different approach was needed for younger students, for whom class size is more important.

The major changes to higher education came in tuition. The subcommittee would increase tuition at community colleges by 2 percent annually, as opposed to Gregoire's plan to freeze tuition for two years. And the subcommittee would cap tuition increases at the University of Washington and Washington State University at 5 percent — as opposed to the governor's suggested 7 percent.

House Appropriations Chairwoman Helen Sommers, D-Seattle, attended the budget release Monday and praised the subcommittee for its "strong proposal."

Charles Hasse, president of the state's largest teachers union, the Washington Education Association (WEA), said he preferred the House approach over the governor's for K-3 and science and math instruction. He added that if the state continues to bring in surplus tax revenue there might be enough money to fund all the proposals.

Hasse said education is woefully underfunded, and he would like to see a six-year plan that continues to increase funding and outlines specific targets and goals. A study sponsored by the WEA last week recommended the state increase education funding by $3.5 billion annually.

Nick Perry: 206-515-5639 or nperry@seattletimes.com

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