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Shorter session good for schools

To help digest the 2004 session of the Legislature that ended March 11, the Mirror asked the three legislators from Federal Way to describe what they consider the session’s main accomplishments. In a three-part series continuing today, it’s the turn of Rep. Skip Priest (R-30th District). Rep. Mark Miloscia will follow this Saturday. Sen. Tracey Eide was Wednesday.

By SKIP PRIEST

For the Mirror

The 60-day legislative session was productive but certainly not as eventful as last year’s session.

If you remember, the Legislature faced a $2.6 billion record budget deficit (we balanced it with no new general operating taxes while protecting our most vulnerable), the threat of a sexual predator facility in Peasley Canyon (we moved it to Seattle) and Boeing’s decision where to build the new 7E7 (we landed it in Washington).

The 2004 “shorter” session also produced some important accomplishments:

Education reform: We passed a very important packet of education reform bills. All four of these bills have been signed into law by the governor.

The first, WASL retesting, is my highest priority. It ensures that all students will have an opportunity to retake the Washington Assessment of Student Learning. Soon, students will be required to pass the WASL to graduate. It’s one thing to have a so-called “high stakes” test, but it’s unacceptable not to provide students every opportunity to succeed. This new law will give students, parents and teachers the additional resources they need to make the grade.

Another new law involves levy relief. It will let school districts, like ours in Federal Way, collect all of the money authorized under a voter-approved levy, even if it exceeds a state formula for local funding.

School districts base their levy requests to voters on a complicated formula based in part on expected state funds. When they do not receive as much state funding as projected, many districts cannot collect all voter-approved levy dollars. This new law gives districts flexibility over the short term and also links equalization dollars to the formula –– very important to the Federal Way school district.

A third new law improves how the state funds its Learning Assistance Program. These funds are designed to help struggling students in poor areas.

This law will target schools with difficult socioeconomic environments and make sure they receive funding in the first place and keep it if the need continues Now schools will not be penalized for successes as they were under the old formula. Instead of taking away these special funds when a school is successful, schools would keep the funding as long as the need is still there. This is the best kind of incentive for education professionals who make it their job to help less fortunate children succeed and better their lives.

Finally, the Legislature passed limited and targeted charter school legislation. This legislation should have little impact on the Federal Way district, which has already demonstrated a long tradition of innovation with the Federal Way Public Academy and Truman High School. It may, however, provide opportunities for experimentation in other school districts that have not been as innovative and flexible.

Outsourcing

With increased globalization of our economy, the outsourcing of jobs abroad has become a very important issue to many of us. It’s exceedingly complex. On one hand, the state continues to have an unacceptably high unemployment rate. Many say that continued outsourcing of jobs threatens the already fragile economic recovery. On the other hand, many recognize that Washington is one of the most trade-dependent states in the country. They say that protectionist type decisions will hurt more than help. And everyone seems to want to purchase consumer goods made more cheaply abroad. The House passed, with my support, legislation aimed at studying this important issue. While the Senate failed to follow our lead, the legislation sent a clear message that many of us believe we need to address this issue now.

Supplemental Budget Appropriation

The Legislature, with my support, cautiously passed a supplemental spending bill that recognizes that we will likely face a $1 billion budget shortfall in the next biennium. It provides more money for higher education (both state enrollment dollars and financial aid), provides additional medical assistance dollars to low-income families participating in the Medicaid program, and provides a 50 cents per hour increase to some 26,000 underpaid home health care workers. It also reserves over $300 million to prepare for next year. While this is not as much as I would like, it is significantly better than the governor’s original proposal.

Higher Education

Until recently, higher education hasn’t been the topic of as many headlines as K-12. However, this is beginning to change. More people are recognizing that we will soon have an additional 35,000 “baby boom echo” students that stand to overwhelm the state’s universities and colleges—many of these students from the 30th District. More people are also realizing that if we are going to be truly competitive in the global economy—these jobs can only come from research, training, and retraining provided by our community colleges, comprehensive four-year, and research universities. As a legislative leader in higher education, I’m proud of the steps we’ve taken to ensure that the state is prepared to meet these goals. Not only did we provide additional dollars in the supplemental budget for higher education, but we also made it clear to the Higher Education Coordinating Board that we needed guidance as soon as possible that outlines how we will best improve student access and achieve the state’s economic goals.

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