By Crosscut’s Tom James.

After a long wait, the debate over state education funding got underway in earnest last week, as Democrats grappled with the year’s first major proposal from Republicans.

The plan, released the previous weekend, details a series of policy changes along with a property tax swap that would shift much of the burden of paying for schools to the state, but would also require $1.4 billion in cuts elsewhere in the state budget. As details filtered out, Democratic legislators objected to both that funding mechanism and some of the policy changes, like a plan for hiring teachers who haven’t been certified.

As both sides laid out their reasoning last week, one critical point also remained ambiguous: whether or not the proposal amounted to a cut for schools. By using different baselines for comparison, Republican legislators portrayed the plan as a straightforward swap that maintains or increases funding, while Democrats claimed it would amount to a long-run cut for about half the state’s students.

“There are about half a million kids in this state that … after implementing the Republican plan, would not have more money in their schools,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island.

The plan’s architect, Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said it would offer a more responsive model for funding schools.