Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has introduced a plan to upgrade education in the state, including working on the preschool program for poor children, creating a full day kindergarten program, and hiring 7,000 more teachers in an effort to reduce class sizes among the first three grade levels in all elementary schools.
In addition, his plan would place a tuition freeze on the state’s public colleges, lasting from 2015 – 2017 in an effort to help lessen the burden placed on students. More money would be put towards Opportunity Scholarships for those participating in “high demand” health, science and engineering fields, while also increasing the College Bound and State Need Grant programs.
An early commitment of financial aid will also be offered to poor students in the 7th and 8th grades who vow to attend college.
Teacher salaries in the state will also see an increase of a $235.5 million salary increase under the state’s voter-approved Initiative 732. An additional $150.1 million would be included for a 3% salary increase for 2015-2016, and a 1.8% increase for 2016-2017.
Inslee has not yet announced how he plans to fund his plans.
During the recession, between 2008 and 2012, in-state undergraduate tuition rose an average of 73% at research universities, 56% at regional universities and 42% at community colleges. In addition, schools were hit with a loss of state funding.
“The tuition freeze has to come with additional state funding for colleges: Otherwise it will cost students in the long run as they would have to spend an additional $15-20,000 for a fifth year to complete their degrees,” said Patrick Stickney, director of Western Advocates, an alumni advocacy group for Western Washington University.
The plan calls for the largest-ever investment in early childhood education for the state, spending $79.8 million on 6,358 new preschool spaces, offering preschool access to 16,449 low-income children.
The state will also offer more support for intervention services offered through the Early Support for Infants and Toddlers program by providing $4 million. It is estimated that the money will help 1,500 additional children with special needs.
An additional $107.6 million to help create a full-day kindergarten program in the state to begin in the 2016-2017 school year.
The new plan will also work to reduce class sizes throughout the state in response to Initiative 1351, which asked for lower class sizes but offered no way to pay for them. Through Inslee’s plan, kindergarten through third grade classes across the state would be reduced to 17 children by the 2016-2017 school year. Elementary classes currently see about 25 children in some schools. Among schools with high numbers of low-income students class sizes are typically between 20 and 24 children.
However, his plan does not cover the entire cost of the voter-approved class-size reduction initiative, which would cost an estimated $2 billion. His plan covers only $448 million.
The state will pay for more supplies, more guidance counselors in high-poverty middle schools, and offer grants to elementary schools who participate in breakfast-after-the-bell programs, “so nearly 30,000 students start the day well fed and ready to learn.”
In addition, the state will spend $1 million boosting outdoor learning experiences, so that 5,000 fourth and fifth graders have the opportunity to “connect with nature and get an appreciation of the environment.”
Community and technical colleges will also see an expansion of their Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement program (MESA) by 600 slots to prepare more students for jobs in those high-demand fields.
Inslee would also like to see 225 slots be added to the computer science and engineering programs at the University of Washington and Washington State University, in order to better stay in line with future demands in those fields as well.