Locke makes education funding case in Bremerton

"Gov. Gary Locke implored the community to hasten the pace of education reform in Kitsap County in a Wednesday appearance meant to boost support for his school funding proposal.Locke addressed nearly 100 students, school board members and faculty from around the county during his stop at Bremerton High School.We have simply gone too far in this state with some of the highest per capita income in America and the third worst-crowded classrooms in America, Locke said.Along with state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson, Locke asked for support for the Learning Improvement Property Tax Credit pending in the legislature.The five-year plan would allow local school boards to keep for local school improvements a part of their property taxes which currently go to the state treasury. Totalling more than $1 billion statewide, Kitsap County schools would keep almost $5.7 million under the plan. Locke's proposal, which requires a simple majority vote in the legislature to pass, would add $140 per student to Washington school board budgets in its first year and $450 per student in 2004.Local school boards across the state can use the new revenue stream to fund programs of their choosing to do whatever it takes to get our kids enthusiastic about learning, Locke said.Some suggestions for spending the loot from the governor included early childhood development programs, more faculty for smaller class sizes and summer schools.Locke said he thinks the plan is particularly compelling because it is not a tax increase or a new tax. The funding source is already-assessed state property taxes that are not earmarked for particular programs.The money to fund these improvements simply goes to Olympia and sits in surplus, Locke said. It won't cost a penny.Since Locke's plan only redistributes already-assessed taxes, it is not a new tax or a tax increase and therefore flies below the radar of the I-695 proviso to send all new taxes to a vote of the people. Critics ask whether the proposal keeps with the let-the-voters-decide spirit of I-695. Why not lower taxes and let the voters decide, district by district, how to fund schools?That's a choice that will either have to be made by the legislature or the citizens, said Russ Hartman, Bremerton School Board president.If Locke's proposal doesn't fly, Hartman and other members of a group calling itself K-12 2000 intend to file a school finance initiative next week. The initiative would mirror Locke's proposal but would be considered by the voters, not the legislators.Hartman said he is confident the voters will give school funding the thumbs up, even if the legislators pass.It's possible, depending on how you cut the pie up, that we could have some tax relief, he said. But based on the polling ... a lot of people would like to see us focusing on education."

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