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Eye On Olympia

Posts tagged: funding

Amid recession and friendly fire, lawmakers put shoulder to wheel on school reforms…

In Tuesday morning’s paper:

OLYMPIA _ Trying to launch a big boat in rough waters, a bipartisan group of state lawmakers on Monday began making the case for a sweeping overhaul of Washington’s education system.

“All in all, we think this is the first comprehensive reform of the public education system in at least three decades,” said Sen. Fred Jarrett, D-Mercer Island.

Lawmakers began a full-court press for the bill Monday, with the first of several hearings.

Mary Jean Ryan, chairwoman of the state board of education, called Senate Bill 5444 landmark legislation that “offers a way out of the cellar of national education statistics in which we find ourselves.”

The plan, hashed out in many hearings last year, would:
-more broadly define basic education and commit the state to paying for it,
-dramatically rewrite how teachers are paid and trained,
-boost from 19 to 24 the number of credits needed for high school graduation,
-boost the number of state-paid classes in high school from 5 a day to 6,
-and add help for low-income schools and students learning English.

Supporters say the changes would mean higher pay for teachers, billions of dollars more for schools, and the state – instead of local school district taxpayers — covering far more of the cost of education. Ultimately, they estimate, the proposal would mean about 50 percent more money for Washington’s schools. But many of the changes wouldn’t start until 2011, and even then, would be phased in over six years.

“Getting the structural changes in place is much more important than getting a specific (budget) number this year,” said Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina. The state, he said, can start adding money as the economy improves. “You’re not trying to just put more money into the system. You’re trying to change how the system works.”

Trying to boost school spending 50 percent during a deep recession, said, Sen. Cheryl Pflug, R-Maple Valley, “doesn’t meet the straight face test.”

The proposal faces stiff competition from a competing plan backed by the associations representing school principles, teachers, administrators, non-teaching school staffers, and school

Dorn opens with tough talk to lawmakers…

Newly elected state superintendent of public instruction Randy Dorn threw down the gauntlet on school funding Monday in his inaugural appearance before the state Senate education committee.

Money for schools must come first, Dorn told them:

“We’ve really never matched up the standards and how you fund education…I will be reminding the legislators that the number one, primary, paramount duty you have is to fund education. That doesn’t mean kinda number one, close to the top, it means beyond the top and out in front of everything else that you look at. That has to be your number one priority.

“That is a hard shift because there’s many many things that come to view that just strike you that we’ve got to do something about that. And it’s hard to place education absolutely above everything else. But you don’t have that choice. Your constitution says — and you take an oath of office — that you will follow that. So that’s what has to create all the decision-making…that’s where the funding has to be.

The lawmakers showed little reaction. Some shuffled papers; others gazed, showing no emotion, straight at Dorn.

Committee chairwoman Rosemary McAuliffe said the budget remains a reality, and she wants input from Dorn to help lawmakers face the challenge.

“I’m asking you if you could help us, prior to seeing budgets released, could you give some input?” she said. “Because I think that’s critically important that you take this opportunity between now and a few weeks to kind of let us know, in this budget crisis, what would you do?

“I know you said it’s the number one priority,” she continued, “but we’ll take some share, you know that. While we will protect basic education, as we should. That is the paramount duty.”

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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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