Gubernatorial candidates Gary Locke and Ellen Craswell are miles apart in their approach to education.
Locke, a Democrat, made increased spending for education a central campaign theme.
The candidate offers few specifics on how much more he thinks the state should spend, or where the money would come from, aside from squeezing more out of taxpayers and raising out-of-state tuition.
Locke’s first resort, not his last, will be to ask the Legislature to amend Initiative 601, the tax and spending limitation measure.
Locke wants to allow spending on education to increase along with inflation and the school-aged population.
That might not be possible. The Legislature is loathe to amend citizen initiatives, particularly to raise taxes or increase spending.
And Locke may face GOP leadership in not only the House but also the Senate, where several Democratic incumbents are battling for their seats.
Locke said he also wants schools to adopt more efficiencies, but offered no specific, new ideas to cut costs.
Craswell insists the state should squeeze more out of the dollars already earmarked for schools instead of asking taxpayers to spend more.
“I’m not ready to put more money in until I am sure we are getting more out of the dollars that are there,” Craswell said. She also offered no specifics, beyond giving schools more flexibility and suggesting they could privatize some services.
That’s not as easy as it sounds. Efforts to privatize custodial services at Spokane Falls Community College died after a court challenge by state employees.
Craswell said she is “absolutely opposed” to amending I-601. “Government needs to live within its income just as private individuals do. It forces government to start prioritizing.”
The candidates share other major differences.
Craswell recently wrote a supporter that ultimately, it would be best if the state got out of education altogether. She embarrassed herself on a talk radio program by suggesting the University of Washington should be privatized.
“I just said everything needs to be on the table and that we could even consider privatization,” Craswell said.
“His eyes sort of popped out,” she said of the talk show host. “I probably misspoke.”
Locke wants the higher education system to grow. He says more than 80,000 new full-time enrollment slots may be needed by 2010 to keep pace with the school-aged population and worker retraining needs.
Craswell has made no commitments to expand enrollment.
Locke also backs creation of a statewide computer network to link schools and broaden learning opportunities.
Craswell wants to repeal programs, not add them. She would get rid of bilingual instruction and terminate the state’s on-going education reform program. She said it imposes too many state mandates on local schools.
Instead, Craswell said she believes control over schools should be shifted to local school boards. She said the state school office, the superintendent of public instruction, is “probably not needed.”
Former higher education administrators gathered at a Seattle press conference this week to endorse Locke and bash Craswell’s tax-cut plan, warning it would eviscerate higher education.
Her program, if completely implemented, would reduce state revenues by 34 percent in four years.
More than half of state spending goes into K-12 education and debt service payments that can’t be cut by law. So if revenues drop, higher education spending would have to be cut to balance the budget, critics warn.
“If Ellen Craswell were elected, this would be the worst election for higher education since the Great Depression,” said John Terrey, former director of the State Board for Community College Education.
Locke hammered Craswell’s proposal this week, calling it “absolutely irresponsible, extremely short-sighted, narrow-minded and unconscionable.”
William Gerberding, former president of the UW, said Craswell’s tax cuts would be “devastating.”
“It would undo all the progress made,” Gerberding said. “You could forget our being competitive nationally, attracting the best faculty. I simply couldn’t imagine a budget cut like that. We are talking about enormous numbers, a disaster.”
Gerberding dismissed privatizing the UW as “a bizarre idea.”
Craswell said she’s just expecting higher education administrators to follow the lead of the private sector: “Business has had to do this over the last five or six years: Do more with less money and fewer employees.”