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Originally published Tuesday, July 31, 2012 at 6:08 PM

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McKenna unveils education funding plan

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna said Tuesday that he would spend an additional $1.7 billion on the state's public education obligations and higher education through 2015.

Associated Press

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TACOMA, Wash. —

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna said Tuesday that he would spend an additional $1.7 billion on the state's public education obligations and higher education through 2015.

McKenna's plan would take into account a series of expected savings, such as smaller government, more competitive state contracting and curbed health care costs, all ideas he's discussed before. The plan released Tuesday included a spreadsheet that puts dollar figures onto how much would go toward education in the coming years through 2021.

The plan assumes that non-education spending growth is capped at 6 percent per biennium, and that state revenue would increase by 9 percent per biennium.

Both McKenna and Democratic challenger Jay Inslee have said they want to find more money for education through improving government efficiency and spending post-recession dollars. Lawmakers say about $1 billion will be needed in the near future for education.

A spokeswoman for Inslee said Tuesday that McKenna is overpromising.

"A lot of these things are going to take time, absolutely, but to just go out and promise that within the next couple of years we're going to be able to magically find $3 billion by holding down costs, is just completely unrealistic," said Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for Jay Inslee.

Like McKenna, Inslee says that money for education can be found without new taxes, and he has also talked about curbing health costs, just as McKenna has.

But Smith notes that other than addressing the immediate need for the state to improve its funding for education as directed by the state Supreme Court earlier this year, Inslee hasn't specified a specific number. McKenna's numbers are "one big empty promise," Smith said.

McKenna also proposes a levy swap proposal to make education funding more consistent as required by a state Supreme Court ruling earlier this year.

He says he wants to increase state spending on public schools by 4 percent by 2019. Currently, 44 percent of the state's general fund budget is allocated to public education from kindergarten through the end of high school, a reduction from 48 percent in the early 1990s.

"What we're trying to achieve here is a reversal of the trend we've seen over the last several years," he said.

He also wants to reduce class sizes for kindergarten through third grade to 17 students per teacher and pay for all-day kindergarten by the 2017-2019 biennium. Currently, the state budgets for class sizes of 25 students per teacher.

McKenna's numbers show that an additional $4.6 billion would be spent on public education by 2021, and that higher education would see an increase of $1 billion in that same timeframe.

The refocus on education funding has been driven in part by a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year. In the so-called McCleary decision, the Washington Supreme Court determined in January that the state isn't meeting its constitutional obligation to amply pay for basic public education.

Former state Sen. Dan McDonald helped McKenna craft the plan.

"We're not saying this is going to be easy," McDonald said. "This gets you to where you want to be and the numbers work, and I think it's very reasonable to say, look, higher ed and K-12 have been taking the brunt for a long time. We're going to grow them faster than the rest of state government."

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