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Mandate Sets Stage For School Reform

Public education won a landslide in Tuesday’s otherwise muddled election.

No, that is not because Bill Clinton won the White House or because Republicans kept control of the U.S. House and Senate. Education depends largely on state and local money. Federal government affects public schools and universities only on the margins. The best thing the feds could do - and this is something the GOP’s congressional majority supports - is cut bureaucracies and regulations in Washington, D.C., so those who actually deliver the service have more funds and freedom to innovate.

But that’s a small point. It was in Washington state’s balloting where voters delivered a mandate - and an opportunity - for public education.

The mandate came in a stinging repudiation of the religiousconservative contention that public schools are almost beyond redemption. The same voters who sent conservative majorities to Congress and the Legislature also rejected the brand of conservatism embodied by Ellen Craswell and Ron Taber. Craswell got only 41 percent of the vote in her campaign for governor. Taber collected just 36 percent of the vote in his bid to be state superintendent of public instruction.

A similar landslide buried the school-voucher and charter-school initiatives.

The message? Voters aren’t ready to give up on public schools.

However, support for public education is conditional. Employers complain that graduates can’t read or write very well. Parents complain about mediocre instruction and the dumbing-down of academia’s political correctness.

All of which leads to the opportunity: A 1993 state law launched a process to reform public schools, release them from suffocating state rules, raise academic standards and add measures for accountability. Mainstream conservatives ought to embrace this effort and guide it. They also have reason to support the call by incoming Democratic Gov. Gary Locke to boost the capacity of public institutions of higher education. From community colleges to research universities, postsecondary education is vital to welfare reform and the preparation of baby boomers’ children for a good-jobs economy. Meanwhile, the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Board has been discussing faculty productivity and asking how campuses better can meet the real-world needs of students and those who will employ them.

So the stage is set. We can’t think of a better issue for our newly elected politicans to tackle - if they’re to leave partisan wars behind and get busy investing ingenuity and funds in the public’s long-term best interests.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = John Webster/For the editorial board

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Freeman students march in unity to honor memory of slain classmate Sam Strahan

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