Tag: education reform

TeacherApple

Is Superintendent Randy Dorn Planning to Underfund Charter Schools?

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn has just released his calculation of how much he wants to give charter schools and their students when these popular, voter-approved schools open next fall.  As many of my readers will recall, Superintendent Dorn opposed allowing children in Washington state to attend charter schools.

He just posted this chart on the State Board of Education website showing how much education funding he wants to provide charter school children:

Allocation, Charter Schools Estimated Average per StudentFTE School Year 2013-14
Basic Education $5,297
Programs with Enhancements
Special Education $5,048
Learning Assistance Program $466
Transitional Bilingual $891
Highly Capable $9
Student Transportation $807

These numbers looked odd to me.  So I compared them to the state report showing the money students at traditional public schools receive.   Report 1191, Apportionment for September 30, 2013, shows that public school students currently receive the following amounts:

Basic Education $5,537
Programs with Enhancements
Special Education $5,428
Learning Assistance $464
Transitional Bilingual $948
Highly Capable $416
Student Transportation not enough information

Comparing these figures suggests Superintendent Dorn plans to provide each charter school student about $1,082 less in funding than other public school children receive.

The planned unequal funding levels seems unfair to charter school children.  When voters passed Initiative 1240 they intended children at charter schools to receive equal treatment.  Section 222 (Funding) of Initiative 1240 says:

“(2) …the superintendent of public instruction shall allocate funding for a charter school including general apportionment, special education, categorical, and other nonbasic education moneys….  Categorical funding must be allocated to a charter school based on the same funding criteria used for noncharter public schools…”

Public education funding is complicated, to say the least.  There may be information in the state numbers that explains why children at charter schools may receive less education funding than other children.  As a policy analyst, I have occasionally found official reports to be unclear because of their sheer complexity.  However, if Superintendent Dorn is planning to underfund charter schools, this should at least be reported to the public.

The lower funding may discourage some families from seeking educational opportunities at a local charter school.  That would be the practical result.  On principle, however, it just seems unfair.

This report is part of WPC’s Initiative 1240 Follow Up Project.

[Reposted with permission from the Washington Policy Center's blog.]
MiltonFriedman03

On Education, Friedman Had it Right

The virtue of customized services has become embedded in American values. Our coffee drink has 87,000 choices. Banking is so personalized that  the notion of “bankers hours” is an antique concept, thanks to online banking and mobile apps. Our phone plans fit exactly the needs of each customer.

Only in education have we clung stubbornly to the monopoly model. Like some gray factory in an Eastern Bloc country last century, schools continue to operate as designed by government without the flexibility to adapt.

FreedomFoundation_03Whenever any deficiency is noted, we add to the monolith some symbolic program or requirement that lets policymakers sleep a little better. Unfortunately, the complexity of the various needs students have is much greater than any amount of tinkering with the monopoly could credibly address.

Special Education needs, cultural diversity needs, targeted skills training needs, non-English speaker needs, study skill needs, social and emotional coaching needs, health needs, discipline needs and proficiency level differences among students are all much more pronounced than ever in history.

So tinkerers keep adding processes to the monopoly until nobody is served well. The funding system has reflected this growing complexity by trying to define the one size that fits all.

It won’t work, and it is ridiculously complex to try.

We appreciate options with coffee, banking and communication services. We even trust creative customization with much more important services like food, healthcare, and housing.

Parents and children should also have the ability to choose from among competing providers offering customized services to meet families’ needs. Expanding options is in students’ interest because the chance of finding the “right fit” for each student’s unique needs is greater.

Nobel laureate and economist Milton Friedman had it right in 1955. Recognizing that society benefits from an educated population, he noted:

“A stable and democratic society is impossible without widespread acceptance of some common set of values and without a minimum degree of literacy and knowledge on the part of most citizens”

But he also realized:

 “. . . governments have in the main financed education by paying directly the costs of running educational institutions . . .. Governments could require a minimum level of education which they could finance by giving parents vouchers redeemable for a specified maximum sum per child per year if spent on “approved” educational services.”

Expanding the options for families is also in the public interest because customization is more efficient; education services are a better fit; and parents are engaged in education decision-making in a more meaningful way.

As Milton Friedman noted more than fifty years ago:

“The result of these measures would be a sizable reduction in the direct activities of government, yet a great widening in the educational opportunities open to our children. They would bring a healthy increase in the variety of educational institutions available and in competition among them. Private initiative and enterprise would quicken the pace of progress in this area as it has in so many others. Government would serve its proper function of improving the operation of the invisible hand without substituting the dead hand of bureaucracy.”

Let’s bring K-12 education into the 21st century, and make policies that actually recognize what we all instinctively understand: one size does not fit all.

 

[Reposted from the Freedom Foundation blog]

MiltonFriedman01-1

CNBC to Highlight Milton Friedman’s Legacy July 31

The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice released the following:

CNBC to highlight Milton Friedman’s legacy July 31

The “father” of school choice to be remembered at events around the world.

Milton Friedman’s legacy will be showcased on CNBC tomorrow morning on what would have been the late Nobel laureate’s 101st birthday. The segment will air on the “pre-market” news show “Squawk Box,” July 31, at 7:50 a.m. ET, featuring Robert Enlow, president and CEO of the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice.

The CNBC piece will run during an annual, worldwide celebration to remember Milton Friedman, who founded the Friedman Foundation along with his wife, Rose, to advance school choice. “Friedman Legacy Day” is held every July 31, Milton Friedman’s birthday. This year, the Friedman Foundation is marking Friedman’s 101st birthday with the slogan “Milton101.”

“School choice advocates, and supporters of liberty, need to get back to the basics on why our cause is needed,” Enlow said. “Milton Friedman showed these ideas are really simple. We just have to give people the freedom to choose what’s best for them and their families.”

The Friedman Foundation is encouraging “Friedman Legacy Day” participants to join in a worldwide conversation on Twitter, using the hashtag #Milton101. Organizations celebrating Milton Friedman will be posting photos to the Friedman Foundation’s Facebook and Instagram pages.

Although Friedman is credited with popularizing tax reform, prompting the development of an all-volunteer armed forces, and highlighting the importance of monetary policy as it relates to inflation, he and his wife wanted their legacy attached to school choice. In 1955, Milton’s essay titled “The Role of Government in Education” first established the voucher idea, encouraging public education funds to follow students to the schools of their parents’ choice.

Today, 23 states and Washington, D.C., have implemented some form of Milton Friedman’s school choice idea.

A list of “Friedman Legacy Day” events can be found at edchoice.org.

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StudentGradSmile

State Rep. Pike Introduces K-12 Scholarship Tax Credit Bill to Increase Education Opportunities

In 2012, a majority of Washington state voters decided that parents and students should have some choices in public education, allowing 40 charter schools to open within the more than 2,300 schools in the public K-12 system.

What if that kind of school choice was the norm for Washington state families and not the rare exception?

Freshman Republican state Rep. Liz Pike (R-Vancouver) has introduced a bill in the Washington state House that would be a major step toward the ideal of making access to a quality education universal. Pike’s House Bill 2063 would create a special tax incentive for investing in tuition scholarships available to lower-income students, a program that is already being used successfully in 12 other states to allow some 130,000 kids to attend private schools who otherwise would not be able to afford it.

According to an analysis of the bill done by Freedom Foundation Education Reform Fellow Jami Lund, HB 2063 would offer a 100% business and operating tax credit for donations made to approved scholarship-granting entities, and the initial maximum annual tax credits would be capped at $100 million. The amount of individual grants would be limited to $5,000 for basic education students and $10,500 for special education students, and would have to be used at a state-approved school. Donors’ children could not be the recipients of scholarship monies.

The passage of the charter school initiative represented a baby step toward educational freedom for students most at-risk of slipping through the cracks, but for whom publicly funded education is not just a state-guaranteed right, but a necessity.

Nevertheless, 40 charter schools cannot possibly make more than a small dent in the iceberg-like looming social problem of 15,000 students dropping out Washington state public schools each year, a majority of whom come from low-income households. There are real costs – economic and social – to bear from each unfulfilled promise to educate every child. Statistics compiled from state agencies find that each dropout ends up costing state taxpayers $10,500 per year (in increased use of social services and lost economic activity) for the rest of that student’s life. The emotional cost to the individual dropping out is immeasurable.

Pike’s bill represents a real move to expand opportunities in a way that also brings communities back into the education system as true investors. During an otherwise sleepy special session now underway, the Legislature should have time to give her bill its full consideration as part of a comprehensive strategy to improve education opportunities for Washington state students.

 

[featured image used under Creative Commons license, credit: m00by]

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Horse Head Politics Starting Early—State Teachers Union Launches Attacks at ‘Rodney Tom Six’ in State Senate

WEA strong-arm tactics invoke fear, but the union’s record in recent elections should embolden education reformers

Fullscreen capture 3262013 120603 PM.bmpTwo weeks ago, most Washingtonians only turned their clocks forward, but if spending on political attack ads is the sign of an election season underway the Washington Education  Association took it as a cue to turn their calendars forward, too.

In addition to earning top dog spender status for early 2013 among all lobbyists wooing state lawmakers in Olympia ($130,000 on lobbyists and ads as NPR’s Austin Jenkins reported Friday), the WEA is courting controversy with a historically early negative attack campaign aimed at four Republican and two Democratic state senators – state Sens. Rodney Tom (D-Medina), Bruce Dammeier (R-Puyallup), Andy Hill (R-Kirkland), Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens), Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island) and Joe Fain (R-Auburn).

One two-page WEA hit piece from the “Paramout Duty” campaign is reminiscent of an old-fashioned “Wanted: Dead or Alive” poster, photos of all six officials arranged in line-up fashion under the union-christened name of their outlaw gang: “The Rodney Tom Six.” The WEA asks us to “remember their names,” an ominous turn of phrase that invokes thoughts of banishment and exile.

Their shocking crime against humanity in the opinion of the teachers union: “Shirking their duty to our children.”

Fact-checking reveals that many of the WEA’s claims of the Tom Gang’s atrocities against our youth either play it fast and loose with the truth, or ignore the truth entirely.

One deception in particular – the claim that Washington state ranks 43rd in the nation for per pupil spending – is one voters should get used to seeing and hearing because it has particular shock value in the budget wars.

The WEA piece does not give a citation for their factoid, but according to Washington Policy Center education policy director Liv Finne, the figure is bogus and was “generated by manipulating the data.”

“For example, that Washington is 43rd in the nation in per pupil spending is arrived at by including a calculation for the personal income and wealth of a state’s citizens,” Finne said. “Because we have people like Bill Gates and others, that is a skewed figure.”

Finne notes that the National Center for Education Statistics – a project of the U.S. Dept. of Education – ranks Washington state at 28th for per pupil spending in terms of actual dollars.

For a fact-check noting more of the errors, inaccuracies and distortions in the WEA’s hit piece, read Finne’s excellent Tuesday morning post on the Washington Policy Center blog.

The negative tone of a second WEA smear piece – one singling out Hobbs – provoked the ire of Seattle Times editorial board member Lynne Varner last Friday.

“Hell hath no fury like the Washington Education Association,” Varner wrote under the headline “Does the WEA stand for Washington Education Association or We Eviscerate Anyone?” Varner also does an excellent job of pointing out the fallacies and false statements in the WEA’s attacks and her piece is well worth reading.

WEA scare tactics: more bark, less bite

“Hobbs is nervous. He’d be a fool not to be,” Varner writes, giving the young Democrat permission to quiver in his boots in advance of his turn in the inquisition.

By now, we assume Tom is used to being served up to the Democratic base by Party bosses – a sacrificial offering of roast black sheep to appease the mob. But the WEA’s further indulgence of its political bloodlust this early in the campaign season is bound to weaken the knees of some politicians.

Still, how much anxiety is appropriate? Varner’s portrayal of the WEA as an attack-prone political organization is apt; the union offensive targeting Hobbs and five others is a tactic that sends a clear warning: do not stray off the plantation. But aside from the psychological impact of the WEA’s ‘horse head in the bed’ approach to getting its way, will threats and flashing of knives translate into blood being spilled (symbolically, of course) when votes are counted?

After all, though there can be no doubt of the WEA’s power over state politics, the union’s effect on elections in 2012 was, well, underwhelming.

Like a cat arching its back to scare off a much larger animal, WEA chose to play defense in the 2012 legislative races. The bulk of their resources were dedicated preserving the Democratic Party’s hold on the Governor’s office, to the re-election of key state legislators and to a failed effort to defeat Initiative 1240, the statewide measure to allow public charter schools in Washington state.

Adopting a passive posture may have left the union behemoth flat-footed and lethargic as seems to be evidenced by the tale of two legislative races in Vancouver’s 17th District, a House race that meant nothing in terms of the balance of power and a Senate race that wound up changing the whole ballgame.

It was easy to see by late October that Republican hopes for outright control of the state Senate were fading fast. Targeted swing district races (such as Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe (D-Bothell)) were not panning out. Dreams of a Republican majority in the state House had been killed off much earlier. Even before the bulk of ballots started coming in, the die was cast – Democrats would maintain numeric majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

But in the 17th Legislative District, incumbent state Sen. Don Benton’s (R-Vancouver) was in the re-election fight of his political life, one that also would keep Senate Republicans within two votes of the majority. Earlier in 2012, Republicans had found the two open-minded Democrats willing to share power – Sen. Tom and Sen. Tim Sheldon – in their daring 9th Order parliamentary maneuver to pass a budget. The outcome of the Benton race was critical for Democrats.

Meanwhile, Democrat Monica Stonier was running in another photo-finish race for a 17th District state House seat, one that meant absolutely nothing in terms of the balance of power in Olympia.

Where did the WEA put their money? On Stonier, of course. The WEA spent only $19,000 in a losing effort against Benton, but kicked in far more than that amount to elect Stonier to the state House from the same district, a race that had far less strategic importance.

So, history comes full circle. Before the 2013 legislative session began, Republicans and two moderate Democrats formed the Majority Coalition Caucus to have real power over the Senate process, the result of which has been a lot of conversation and legislation that make the WEA nervous.

How about those chickens coming home to roost?

Fullscreen capture 3262013 115134 AM.bmpSo, too did the WEA’s gamble in opposing Initiative 1240 – the 2012 ballot measure approved by voters that will create new public charters in Washington state – end up being a loser. The WEA was largest in-state contributor to the campaigns against I-1240, contributing a total of more than $241,000 in cash and in-kind contributions to People for Our Public Schools PAC. (For comparison, the National Education Association spent $250,000 on the losing effort.)

If support for school choice is a sign of support for broader reforms in education, the bad news for the WEA’s pressure campaign against the Rodney Tom Six worsens when one examines how I-1240 did in those officials’ districts. Initiative 1240 passed statewide by only a percentage point, but on the Tom Six’s respective turf it passed by anywhere between 7 and 13-point margins.

How does the WEA avoid a crosswind of blowback from these multiple failures? Possibly because People for Our Public Schools flagrantly violated state campaign laws by routinely not listing its top three contributors on official printed pieces like this one, this one and this one. As a great comedian once said, “Cop didn’t see it; I didn’t do it.”

Well, WEA, Sherriff Lynne Varner saw it this time. Taxpayers and especially parents should all be paying close attention to the WEA. The goal of reforming the public education system so that current and future generations of children have the opportunity to reach their full potential is at stake.

OnlineLearning

School Choice Week (And How Online Learning is Good for Students and Teachers)

In “Short Circuited: The Challenge Facing the Online Learning Revolution in California” our friends at the Pacific Research Institute tell the story of online learning in California.

Highlighting Rocketship Education, School of One, and California Virtual Academy, the film shows the benefits of online and blended learning for students from a variety of backgrounds.

It goes on to address push-back from teacher unions and how the potential of online learning is only limited by the regulations we place on it.

The film points out that sometimes the interests of teachers and students do not coincide, and in those cases student interests should come first. This is absolutely true.

But the digital learning revolution is not one of those cases.

Embracing online learning is good for students. It opens up countless options for families, providing access to courses otherwise unavailable to every student. As Getting Smart author Tom Vander Ark has said, with online learning there is no reason why every student shouldn’t have access to every Advanced Placement course. It also allows students to learn at their own pace while getting support from qualified teachers. Online learning equalizes opportunity and has the potential to reach society’s most vulnerable. And these are just a few benefits.

But these advantages don’t occur at the expense of teachers. Indeed, online learning benefits teachers, too.

As Governor Bob Wise explained at the Washington Online Learning Symposium, digital learning takes teaching to a level of professionalism teachers have been asking for. Instead of the “sage on the stage” or “guide on the side,” with online learning teachers become “educational designers.”

For decades, teachers have faced the daunting task of educating a room of students that typically have only one thing in common: their age. The average classroom is made up of students with a variety of learning styles, learning levels, interests, temperaments, and more. Today every student is expected to graduate college and career ready, making a teacher’s job more demanding than ever.

The only way for teachers to meet that demand is to update the way we do school. Enter the educational designer. Using online tools (that are increasingly affordable), today’s teacher can build a unique program catered to the needs of each student. Instead of diminishing the importance of teachers, online learning enhances it by giving them the tools to meet individual student needs in ways that were previously impossible.

This is National School Choice Week, and digital learning is one of the most promising choices on the menu. Pacific Research Council rightly notes that teacher unions have pushed back against online learning. But there is no reason why teachers, students, and families can’t join together to advocate for more digital learning options. Those who oppose them are opposing what’s good for students and what’s good for teachers.

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[Reprinted from the Freedom Foundation’s Liberty Live! blog; photo credit: familymwr]

DigitalClassroom

Diminishing Ignorance Will Pave Way for Digital Learning Innovation | Guest Op-Ed

(“Diminishing Ignorance Will Pave Way for Digital Learning Innovation” by Diana Moore was originally published on Getting Smart.)

Washington state: the birthplace of Microsoft, Boeing, Starbucks, Dave Matthews, Rainn Wilson, and more. Lesser known is the fact that the Evergreen State is also home to more than 40 different digital learning programs. In fact, for more than 15 years online public school programs have been active and growing, providing increased access to excellence and options for Washington’s kids.

As an education analyst, it’s been my privilege to travel the state looking for stories of lives that have been changed by digital learning. They’re not hard to find. From dropout recovery to academically advanced, from chronically ill to cognitively impaired, the stories pour in.

Why? What makes the difference? Because after decades of cramming kids into a uniform mold and expecting them to adjust—and come out educated—leaders and visionaries have harnessed the power of technology to design a rigorous academic program around the needs of individual students.

Furthermore, with digital learning, geography, income, health, employment, disability, family, and learning level—these variables no longer dictate a student’s ability to access an excellent public education.

With more than a decade of experience, Washington is ahead of the curve. Our online programs are held to high standards of accountability, students can access any approved online provider—regardless of location, and some of the unnecessary regulations that were inherited from traditional schools have begun to fade away.

But there is still a very real threat to digital learning and the opportunities it can open up for kids. The threat? Ignorance.

A doctor with incomplete information can hurt a patient. A pilot with a faulty map can get pretty darned lost. A mechanic with the wrong manual can ruin a perfectly good machine—while trying to repair it. Similarly, a legislator who lacks a clear understanding of digital learning can deprive thousands of kids of life-changing learning opportunities.

In spite of all the good things happening with digital learning in Washington, many legislators have yet to fully grasp the remarkable potential it holds. And we’ve seen the consequences.

For the past two legislative sessions, online learning has been on the chopping block. In 2010, legislators proposed eliminating funding for K-6 online learning programs. Fortunately, families responded en masse and legislators listened, finding the necessary savings elsewhere.

In 2011, we weren’t so lucky.

Again faced with a budget deficit, legislators proposed a 10-20 percent cut to alternative learning experience programs, which includes online learning. In spite of countless appeals from families, they went through with this cut.

There’s no denying cuts were necessary. But if legislators really understood digital learning, they would have realized their decision would hurt kids—and not save money.

Ignorance is a formidable foe. And this year, we’re taking it on. Ryan Fox, an autistic student from rural Washington –with a passion for music—found the right fit in online learning. Ryan told us, “When our elected officials need to vote on new things, it’s important to educate them so they don’t make uninformed decisions. My mom says, good people usually only make bad decisions when they don’t have information, so we should just make sure that they have it.”

For legislators to enact good policies, they need all the facts. That’s why this year the iLearn Project is partnering with groups like Digital Learning Now and Getting Smart to give Washington’s policymakers a vision for the importance and potential of online learning and the tools to make it a priority.

On the evening of January 11, 2012, we are hosting the Washington Online Learning Symposium for state policymakers. Delivering the keynote speech is national expert and former West Virginia Governor Bob Wise, who currently serves as President of the Alliance for Excellent Education and co-chairman of Digital Learning Now!

The saying “knowledge is power” has suffered from overuse, but it’s still true. Next week at the Washington Online Learning Symposium, we will empower policymakers with the knowledge they need to make Ryan’s experience true for every student:

“I love online learning!  It has changed my life.  I really believe that in the future everyone will learn this way!  We will all be able to learn from the very smartest people on Earth, and we will do it at our own pace every day.  Our abilities will matter more than our disabilities.”

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[photo credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center]

MiltonReasonVideo

Enduring Legacy: Milton Friedman and Education

Milton Friedman’s contribution to 20th century economics is indisputable. But economics isn’t the only area where he had a vested interest. Friedman had a vision for transforming education through free market principles.

In a 1983 article for Newsweek, Friedman wrote,

Schools are now run by professional bureaucrats. Monopoly and uniformity have replaced competition and diversity… Control by producers has replaced control by consumers…

You cannot make a monopolistic supplier of a service pay much attention to its customers’ wants—especially when it does not get its funds directly from its customers.

He went on to describe the answer:

The only solution is to break the monopoly, introduce competition and give the customers alternatives.

Thus began the fight for school choice. The Friedman’s ideal model was a voucher system, where parents could choose the kind of education that would meet their child’s needs, and their tax dollars would follow that decision.

In another article for Newsweek, Friedman described the advantages a voucher system would provide:

This plan would harness the enormous potential of a free market to improve the quality of schooling and to broaden the range of alternatives open to our children—black and white, rich and poor, gifted and slow. As in other areas, we can all benefit by using the market: parents, students, taxpayers and teachers.

So much did Milton and Rose Friedman believe in the importance of school choice that in 1996 they started a foundation solely devoted to it:
“This foundation is the culmination of what has been one of our main interests for more than four decades: improvement in the quality of the education available to children of all income and social classes in this nation, whether that education is provided in government or private schools or at home. “

Originally called the Milton and Rose D. Friedman Foundation, it is now known as the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. Today the foundation is a leader in advancing a variety of educational options from voucher programs to tax credit scholarships to alternative education options. Their mission: “to advance Milton and Rose Friedman’s vision of school choice for all children.”

Using the Friedman Foundation website’s search function, you can find each state’s school choice options. Search for Washington, and here’s what comes up:  “Washington does not have a private school choice program. The state does not have a charter school law.” Not good news.

But it goes on to say, “Washington enables public virtual schooling. Open enrollment exists, both for intradistrict and interdistrict public school choice.” Public virtual schooling, combined with intradistrict and interdistrict school choice, is allowing students from all walks of life to access an alternative to the monopolistic traditional public school system. It also infuses competition into public schooling. Finally, it’s a starting point to whet the public’s appetite for more school choice options.

This week we honor Milton Friedman’s birthday. We do so not only today but all year round by carrying on his legacy of school choice for all. Learn more about online learning at the Freedom Foundation’s iLearn Project and find out if your district offers online options.

As Friedman said, “The best is yet to come as competition and the market work their wonders.”

 

Diana is the Senior Policy Analyst for Education Reform and director of the Freedom Foundation’s iLearn Project. A former middle school Humanities teacher, Diana taught on the south side of Seattle where she developed two primary text-based interdisciplinary humanities curricula.

Diana is a regular contributor to Living Liberty, the Freedom Foundation’s monthly publication. She blogs on LibertyLive.org and iLearnProject.com and has been published in a number of in-state and out-of-state newspapers. Diana has appeared as a guest on more than a dozen talk radio shows across the country.

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[Reprinted from the Freedom Foundation blog.]

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McKenna Officially in Race for Governor, Jobs and Education at Center of Agenda

Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna formally announced his candidacy Wednesday in the 2012 race to be Washington’s next governor, speaking to hundreds in attendance in the theater of a Bellevue high school.

The McKenna campaign broadcast Wednesday’s live announcement from their Facebook page and posted a YouTube video in which McKenna criticized the lack of “strong and decisive leadership in Olympia,” and calls for “a new direction for Washington State.”

In a hour-long address to supporters — in which he interacted comfortably with the capacity crowd — McKenna spoke in detail about a host of familiar Republican proposals, such as reducing the number of state employees and doing more to attract big and small businesses, but addressing the state’s troubles in education was the centerpiece in his plan to lead the state out of economic doldrums. McKenna employed only a whiteboard and a simple hand-drawn diagram as visual aids to define the relationship between jobs, education, and state government he feels are in desperate need of bipartisan attention.

Citing a statistic ranking Washington as 48th among the states in the number of bachelor’s degrees per capita, he suggested that the trend for local employers to import high-skilled workers is a failure of state government to prepare the current generation for a prosperous future.

“Don’t you think we ought to be preparing our kids for those jobs? If we don’t… they’re going to be preparing the lattes for the people who come here to do those jobs,” McKenna sardonically quipped.

McKenna also suggested that local education-focused philanthropic groups, such as the Gates Foundation, may be channeling resources to other states because they do not see will among current leaders to embrace necessary reforms.

In making education a key theme in his early campaign, McKenna pours salt into an open sore many see as the major failing of the Legislature this session – the decision to demote higher education funding as a priority in state budgeting.

Education is a resonant issue with Washington’s eclectic voters; in the current economy so is the specter of persistent unemployment. The merging of these two popular issues would appear to position the McKenna campaign well with voters, but the devil lurks in the details. A nearly 17-month campaign stretch will offer plenty of opportunities for the press and voters to tease that devil out. If a gremlin is there to be found it could be in dueling priorities established in McKenna’s announcement speech.

Investments in education – specifically higher ed – were kicked down the road by the Legislature because of budget realities that were impossible to avoid. The next governor will likely face the same realities: flagging revenues, soaring healthcare costs, and the unwillingness of voters to raise taxes.

The plan McKenna described to his supporters for shrinking state payroll and benefits obligations – changes he believes can painlessly made through attrition and negotiating increased healthcare contributions – would have to create a windfall in the budget large enough to pay for his education proposals and stay ahead of the lurking beast in the budget, untold billions in unfunded liabilities that lay buried under layers of creative government accounting.

Despite vagaries of how the state government under McKenna would balance its books, the promise of a better and more educated Washington of the future is a positive message of hope from a Republican who has a proven track record of getting Democrats to cross over and vote GOP.

In 2008, presidential candidate and then-Senator Barack Obama carried Washington easily by a margin of 17 points. McKenna won reelection in the same year by 19 points, improving upon his 2004 performance. If there is a Republican capable of winning back the governorship after a 28-year GOP drought it is Rob McKenna.

He may not be without competition within his own party, though, as Republican sources continue to speculate that Port of Seattle Commission President Bill Bryant is seriously considering his own bid for the governor’s seat. Congressman Jay Inslee from the 1st Congressional District continues to be the rumored Democrat entering the field, but is awaiting a decision from incumbent Democrat Gov. Christine on whether she will run for a third term.

Rumors that Republican Congressman Dave Reichert might enter the race were put to rest hours before McKenna’s announcement Wednesday when the 8th Congressional District representative told Seattlepi.com that he was throwing his support behind McKenna’s campaign.

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[photo credit: Donald Pham of North Vietnamese News]

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