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Sunday, May 12, 2013 - Page updated at 04:00 p.m.

Editorial: Legislature needs to put students first in special session


WHEN they reconvene Monday, Washington legislators must focus their attention on one budget priority: improving education funding in a way that best serves the state’s students, from age 3 to 23.

A budget agreement was elusive in the Legislature’s 105-day regular session, complicated by a persistent budget deficit. But the Washington Supreme Court has told the Legislature to spend more money on education.

So have the people, and ultimately their voice is what matters most. Lawmakers should take care of Washington’s sons and daughters, and the court will take care of itself.

In the special session that begins Monday, legislators of both parties would like to spend an extra billion dollars on education. They won’t have that much money without tax increases. And recall that in November the people voted 64 percent for a measure to make tax increases difficult, but the high court nullified that initiative in February.

House Democrats have undertaken to raise money by closing loopholes, but it is slow work and will raise less than people think. After the artful air pockets in the Senate and House budgets are flattened, the amount of new money to be spent on education will be less, though still a good sum. Legislators must spend it where it counts.

In the regular session, the House and the Senate approved two-year budgets that don’t agree.

The House would put big money into reducing class sizes and small money into helping struggling students.

The Senate would be generous to the struggling students and ignore class sizes.

The House would raise the pay of school administrators, janitors and food-service workers, and the Senate would not.

For the children, the best use of the money is preschool — former Gov. Chris Gregoire was right about that — and full-day kindergarten, starting in low-income districts. But doing this requires hiring teachers, and the state pays only 70 percent of the cost of a teacher.

Pushing in this direction places a burden on local districts. But it should be done. The people have had enough of making children wait for the needs and wants of adults, whether it be teachers, administrators or Supreme Court justices.

Legislators should put money into remedial help for students falling behind and into dropout prevention to increase the shamefully low rates of high-school graduation — only 77 percent graduate on time.

Both are part of the Learning Assistance Program. The Senate has passed Sen. Jim Hargrove’s Senate Bill 5330 to allow the state to target this money to programs that work. The House messed up the bill and sunk it. The bill should be restored and passed.

Our young people have suffered enough big tuition increases at public colleges and universities. Cap increases at the University of Washington, Washington State University and Western Washington University at 5 percent and the three other four-year public institutions at a lesser percentage. But ensure that higher-ed funding does not fall below its current share of 9 percent of the budget. Avoid the old trick of shifting the money elsewhere.

It is a scandal that the universities are turning away qualified applicants for math, science and technology programs, when local employers too often have to go out of state to find those sorts of graduates. These programs should be expanded to take in all qualified in-state applicants.

Don’t forget reforms. Several proposalsneed to move — do you hear us, House Democrats? — but one most of all: Senate Bill 5242. Sen. Steve Litzow’s mutual-consent bill would end the practice of forced placement, in which teachers can be placed in a school without the consent of the principal.

This amounts to guaranteed jobs, a corrupting practice in any professional work. In the schools it is a classic case of putting the wants of adults over the needs of kids. This is morally wrong, and legislators should be ashamed to let it continue.

This is the year and the budget to put students first.


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