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Senate passes 2013-15 operating budget; Rolfes praises increases in funding for education, police training

Sen. Christine Rolfes praised the passage of the state's 2013-15 operating budget on Friday, and called it a "down payment" on Washington's inadequate funding of its education system.

She also applauded the inclusion of additional funding for police on mental health issues, a continuing issue on Bainbridge Island following the police shooting of a mentally ill man on the island three years ago.

“The most important issue of the legislative session was inarguably how to fund the educational mandate of the [Washington] State Supreme Court," said Rolfes, a 23rd District lawmaker and Bainbridge Island Democrat.

"The budget adopted today offers a down payment on the McCleary decision. Some of our youngest learners will benefit from smaller class sizes, expansion of all-day kindergarten and increased spaces in early learning, and districts will find themselves with more resources from the state for expanded offerings in grades 7-12," she said.

The 2013-15 operating budget totals $33.6 billion; $17 billion has been budgeted for public schools.

“This the first time in several years that K-12 funding has been increased rather than reduced and begins to get our education investments to where they were five years ago," Rolfes said. "However, it does not go far enough in meeting our obligations to kids or educators."

“I'm particularly pleased that we have made provisions for increased funding in higher education for the first time in several years, and that we are freezing tuition at its current level for the next year, which is good for students and families," the senator added.

Rolfes also noted the budget includes more money for police training on how they handle incidents involving the mentally ill, and she recalled the fatal police shooting of a mentally ill Bainbridge Island man in 2010.

The family of Doug Ostling, who was killed by Bainbridge police responding to a 911 call, had testified in Olympia during the regular session to ask for greater funding for law enforcement officers who respond to incidents involving people with mental health issues. Rolfes attended the hearing where the Ostlings testified and also spoke on their behalf.

“This budget begins to repair the deep cuts that have been made to mental health and social services in previous years," Rolfes said Friday. "Notably, it includes funding for mental health crisis intervention training for local peace officers, prompted by a high-profile incident on Bainbridge Island and supported by the Ostling family."

“The budget passed today is a good first step and one in the right direction for the people of our state,” Rolfes said.

The budget was passed at the end of a second Special Session that began June 12.The agreement on an operating budget prevented a government shutdown on Monday.

Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign the budget into law sometime this weekend.

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