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Gregoire urges education reform

OLYMPIA – Gov. Chris Gregoire repeated her call for a giant leap forward in education reform Wednesday while the Legislature showed it was inclined to take baby steps.

Gregoire gathered with a handful of legislators, a parent and a Boeing executive to give another push to a plan she unveiled in January. All the state’s various offices, agencies, boards and commissions for education, from preschool through doctoral programs, should be in one department overseen by a secretary appointed by the governor, she said.

“It’s not adequate for tomorrow; it’s not even adequate for today,” she said of the state’s scattered authorities on education. “Everybody’s defending their turf.”

But even one lawmaker she invited to the press conference cast doubt on the chances the Legislature would move the state’s colleges and universities into a department with preschool through high school.

Rep. Kathy Haigh, D-Shelton, the chairwoman of the House Education Appropriations and Oversight Committee, said the House was more likely to pass a bill to set up a council to study consolidating education into a single agency and come up with a transition plan. “I did not feel her plan was going to make it through,” Haigh said.

That same afternoon, the House passed a series of measures with incremental reforms to some aspect of education. With an 83-14 vote, it approved HB 1443, a package of reforms including tighter rules for high school credits, a focus on dropouts, and expanded remedial education through all high school grades. Another bill calling for senior year in high school to be a “launch year,” with more-challenging programs and courses, passed on a 70-27 vote. Gregoire has also called for 12th grade to be a launch year, but HB 1808 was previously stripped of one of her other priorities: requiring Advanced Placement credits a student earns be honored by any state’s college or university.

HB 1829, to set up an Indian Education Division helping schools meet the needs of Native American students and bring more tribal history and culture into their curricula, passed 73-23. That division would be in the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, a position Gregoire previously suggested could be eliminated in place of an education secretary.

On Wednesday, however, Gregoire said she was no longer pushing for that change, which would require a public vote in November to do away with a constitutional office, even though she still supports creation of an education secretary.

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Then and Now: Comstock Park

James M. Comstock, born in 1838 in Wisconsin, arrived in Spokane in time to witness the great fire of 1889 and start Spokane Dry Goods with Robert Paterson. It became the Crescent, Spokane’s premier department store for a century. He also worked in real estate and owned other businesses. He served a term as Spokane mayor, starting in 1899. James Comstock died in 1918.