Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Are state leaders truly committed to tackling education reform?

I feel misled.

I heard it over and over from the fall through the winter: Education is the number one priority of the 2009 Washington legislature.

Doesn’t a priority deserve some commitment?

Democratic leaders who preached the value of education and the need for improvements to our struggling state system are now balking at keeping that commitment. They don’t want to make any “false promises” that they can't pay for, but they've already made citizens a promise to reform education this session and they should have known then that reform had a price tag.

Chair of the Senate Education Committee Rosemary McAuliffe (D-Bothell) and Governor Gregoire are both stepping back from support for a better system this year. Neither will support a redefinition of basic education without the money to pay for it. The thing is, when the new system is fully phased in, we’re talking about spending an extra $2 billion dollars a year on education. These leaders knew that even in a robust year the money for reform wouldn't be there immediately. They knew that it will take changes in the way the state captures revenue to fully pay for a better system and that it will take time.

Obviously we can’t pump more money into the school system this year or probably not even next year, but why let that stop us from improving the system's framework right now? Revenue will pick up. Even with our volatile, regressive tax system, in the near future there will be more money in the budget for schools.

What do we want to do with it when the money becomes available, and how do we ensure that the extra money will even go to schools? If we give more money to schools, how do we know it is being spent so that it does the most good? The answers to those questions are addressed in House Bill 2261.

HB 2261 puts programs that are shown to work like pre-kindergarten for low-income children and more instructional hours for high school students squarely on the state’s shoulders by including them in the definition of basic education that the state is mandated to pay for. The bill would also allocate funds in a uniform, more transparent way, so citizens can better track what is being paid for.

The bill would be phased-in over six years, beginning in the 2011-2012 school year. That’s two and a half years away. Only a real pessimist would believe that we could not find and invest any more money in public education, our number one priority, in two and a half years. Is that too hard to commit to?

It’s not a “false promise” to pass legislation that creates a fairer, smarter and more up-to-date public education system with challenging, yet possible funding goals. The framework for the future should be ready when the money becomes available.

It is a false promise to back down from your commitment to improve your (and my) number one priority. Don't disappoint us. Make it work.


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