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Originally published May 5, 2012 at 5:19 PM | Page modified May 6, 2012 at 12:55 PM

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Candidates for governor vague on how to better fund schools

Gubernatorial candidates Rob McKenna and Jay Inslee addressed a gathering of the state PTSA on Saturday to talk about education funding, teacher accountability and charter schools.

Seattle Times staff reporter

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Candidates for governor on Saturday told a gathering of public-school parents that Washington schools need more money. That's the obvious part. The difficult parts: where to get it, and how to spend it.

The two candidates — Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee — laid out their platforms for education at the annual gathering of the Washington state PTSA. In an election year when the candidates will have to address how state budget problems are affecting school funding, both said they want to make high school harder so kids are more prepared for college, improve accountability of teachers through more evaluation, and close tax loopholes to raise money for schools.

The candidates emphasized their ties to public education — both are the sons of teachers. Then they shared their goals: For Inslee, it's eliminating the achievement gap and preparing all students for higher education. For McKenna, more rigorous high-school tests and a more diverse set of offerings, including charter and online schools.

The touchy question of charter schools — publicly funded alternative schools that operate independent of school-district oversight — divides the two candidates. Charter schools are not legal in Washington, but the state PTSA voted narrowly Friday night to support them, with some reservations.

McKenna, the state attorney general, supports charter schools.

"Charter schools are not a panacea, they are not a silver bullet," he said. "I just think they should be one tool in the toolbox."

Inslee, who recently resigned his congressional seat to campaign full-time, supports something similar to charter schools that he calls "innovative schools" — grant-funded alternative schools overseen by local school boards.

"We've seen the power of innovation that is in place in many places around the state," he said. But he believes charter schools too often dodge public accountability he sees as vital.

On the question of funding, the candidates were less specific. Inslee says his jobs plan would improve the economy, raising more tax revenue to be spent on education. He'd also rely on more efficient management and changes to the state health-care system. He wouldn't say whether he supports a tax increase to fund education.

McKenna said the money the state has for education should be more effectively spent. He also would slow the growth of other parts of state government spending and put the savings toward education, he said.

Emily Heffter: 206-464-8246 or eheffter@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @EmilyHeffter.

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