Guest Column

An open letter to Washington teachers, students and parents

Tuesday I deliver my State of the State address to the citizens of this state and the 58th Washington State Legislature. I will discuss my plan to tackle the $2.4 billion budget deficit - the largest in our state's history.

These are extremely difficult times in our state. Thousands of people have lost their jobs, businesses are suffering and families are struggling to make ends meet.

That's why I am proposing a general fund budget with no tax increase. To establish this budget, we examined all functions of state government to determine clear priorities. This budget requires us to live within our means, just like all Washington families.

But make no mistake: education remains my top priority. While the teachers of this state are preparing to travel to Olympia, Spokane and the Tri-Cities tomorrow to rally for education, I want to clear up some misconceptions about my budget as it relates to education.

There has been some confusion about my intentions regarding Initiative 728 and Initiative 732. I want to emphasize that my budget proposal temporarily suspends - not cancels - both voter-approved initiatives. It does not repeal these initiatives; it delays the next steps of their implementation.

During the past two years, Initiative 728 provided nearly $400 million to reduce class size in public schools. Under my budget, schools will continue to receive that money during the next two years, but enhancements will be delayed until the 2005-06 school year.

My call to suspend Initiative 732's automatic, annual cost-of-living increases for educational employees does not mean all raises will be eliminated for educators. The suspension will not affect annual "step" increases some teachers receive for acquiring education credits and additional years of experience. My plan also calls for the automatic cost-of-living adjustment for all teachers to be reinstated beginning in 2005.

I am committed to education and believe in what educators do. That's why we are moving forward on a number of education improvements despite the sluggish economy. I am proposing state spending of $10.6 billion on public schools, which is more than we spent this biennium. Public schools, colleges and universities will receive 56 percent of our general fund budget.

I am also committed to working with the Legislature to find a permanent source of funding for K-12 and higher education.

As a father of two young children, I highly value the contributions of public school teachers. You work hard. We don't give you enough compensation or recognition. We would like to do more, but we simply do not have the money at this time.

I hear your voices in protest of education cuts in this budget cycle and hope you can appreciate the difficult decisions we had to make. I am confident we will emerge from these tough economic times an even stronger state. And we will do so by working together.

Thank you for all that you do for the children of Washington. We appreciate your dedication, passion and hard work. You are helping to shape the future of our state, and for that, we are all deeply grateful.

Sincerely,

Gary Locke, Governor

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