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Washington State Legislature Hikes School Aid 20 Percent

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Law makers in Washington State last week approved a two-year budget that will increase school funding by 20 percent over its current level.

The $12.5-billion spending measure sent to Gov. Booth Gardner earmarks $5.76 billion for precollegiate education, about $960 million more than the appropriation for the current biennium. Basic per-pupil aid was raised by $401 million, and funding for teacher salaries and benefits by $256 million.

A separate portion of the budget allocates $252 million for school construction and renovation. Of that amount, $71.5 million will come from general-fund revenues, $38-4million from new state bonds, and the remainder from the sale of timber on state lands.

The state board of education had imposed a moratorium on approving school districts' construction and renovation projects in an attempt to force lawmakers to raise spending for such efforts. Perry Keithley, a budget analyst for the education department, said the board would probably lift its ban in light of the legislature's appropriation.

"We came out of this session a lot better than we thought we would when it started," Mr. Keithley said of the overall K-12 spending plan. He attributed the legislature's lar8gesse to better-than-anticipated revenue collections and lawmakers' desire to improve the state's rank of 46th nationally in terms of teacher-pupil ratio.

According to Mr. Keithley, the basic state-aid appropriation includes $38 million to reduce class sizes in kindergarten through 3rd grade and $55 million in block grants to districts.

13 Percent Pay Hike

Other features of the education budget include:

Across-the-board teacher-salary increases of 4 percent in the biennium's first year and 9.3 percent in its second. By the end of the two-year period, teacher pay will range from $20,000 for beginners to just under $41,000 for veteran instructors with doctoral degrees.

A $5.7-million increase for the state's two-year-old Schools for the 21st Century program, an effort to encourage local restructuring projects. The increase will expand the number of districts participating in the experiment from 21 to 33.

Increases of $78 million for districts that have passed special tax levies but have low property assessments; $76.5 million for special education; $23.2 million for student transportation; $19 million for remediation; and $8.5 million for postsecondary vocational-technical institutes overseen by the state education department.

As expected, lawmakers failed to act on the controversial "children's initiative," thus ensuring the measure a place on the state's November ballot. The proposal, which was placed before the legislature as a result of a citizens' petition drive, calls for more than $300 million in new spending for education, welfare, and social services.

Also last week, Governor Gardner signed into law an $81-million anti-drug bill that, among other provisions, allows school officials to frisk and search the lockers of students suspected of possessing illegal drugs.--tm

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