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Wed., April 22, 2009

Smart Bombs: Think time for WEA

After the state Senate passed a bill that redefines basic education and commits the state to financing the transition, Washington Education Association President Mary Lindquist hit the send button on a churlish message to members of the teachers union. The Web site Publicola posted her e-mail, and you can read it at the Matter of Opinion blog on The Spokesman-Review Web site. Here are excerpts with my comments:

“This bill is a travesty and an insult to the education profession. The groups behind it are vested interests masquerading as concerned citizens who care for children. Yet they’re denigrating and dismissing those of us who actually educate our state’s children!”

My vested interest is my children’s education. I figured that was also the interest of the state Parent Teacher Association (which includes many teachers), the League of Education Voters, Stand for Children and the thousands of parents who participated in town halls and lobbied legislators in support of change. So who, pray tell, were we really working for?

The bill is not a slap at teachers. As the League of Education Voters’ blog stated after the bill’s passage, “We know schools and educators are doing the best job possible in the midst of budget cuts. ESHB 2261 is an acknowledgement that our state is not living up to its paramount duty, and that our teachers deserve the support and resources they need to provide a high quality education for every child.”

“Contrary to what you may hear or read, HB 2261 is a bogus education ‘reform’ bill that blames educators instead of focusing on the REAL problem facing our schools: The nearly $2 billion in cuts to K-12 and higher education.”

The bill’s advocates have stated all along that teachers are the most important factor in a good education, which is why the goal is to reward the best and improve the rest. The cuts Lindquist alludes to are in response to this year’s $9 billion budget shortfall. The problems facing schools predate the legislative session. Washington Learns was formed in 2006, and the joint legislative task force worked on the basic education issue for 18 months.

Virtually every government agency will be experiencing cuts. Families will be kicked off basic health care. Higher education is absorbing even heavier blows. It’s not personal.

“Remember the famous movie line, ‘Show me the money!’ ”

That line is from “Jerry Maguire,” and a WEA ad released right after the vote featured a character yelling that line. It’s true that the legislation does not designate any money. The state is in a deep budget hole, so advocates opted to phase in the changes over a decade and set up a study group to find the money. The commitment is there, and if union leadership would work constructively with groups who are sympathetic to the need for increased funding, I’m sure this would go a lot more smoothly.

Or as Jerry Maguire says, “Help me help you.”

Smart Bombs is written by Associate Editor Gary Crooks and appears Wednesdays and Sundays on the Opinion page. Crooks can be reached at garyc@spokesman.com or at (509) 459-5026.


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