State Sen. Pam Roach, R-31, shared with about a dozen Enumclaw residents who came to her town hall meeting at the Enumclaw library Saturday a new optimism about the state's role in supporting both K-12 and higher education ahead of this year's upcoming Legislative session.
The perspective that the state can better meet the findings of last year's McCleary decision by the State Supreme Court was made possible largely by the recent shift in state Senate alliances that strips control of that body from the Democrats.
In December, Democratic Sens. Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon announced they were joining 23 Republicans in forming the Majority Coalition Caucus.
"Education is a non-partisan issue," she said. And with this move, Tom "is bucking the WEA."
Any recent efforts to reform education in this state have come at the hands of the people rather than the Legislature, Roach said, using the recently passed I-1240, a measure that will allow 40 charter schools to open in Washington state, as a prime example.
I-1240 was not funded by mom and pop businesses, she said, but rather by big business and spearheaded by leaders like Bill Gates. These businesses want to be able to hire in-state talent but are heading overseas instead because local students aren't qualified.
The state used to be able to subsidize the cost of tuition for a public university by about 80 percent, she said; these days, that figure has fallen to 37 percent. "That is a crisis," she said.
With climbing tuition rates, wealthy families can still cover the costs, and low-income students can earn grants, but the middle class continues to lose out, she said.
Roach outlined several goals she had for the upcoming 105-day session which begins on Jan. 14 that center on education:
- Whereas the current state school board is made up of appointees, she would work to change it to an elected body instead. In its current state, the board is too far removed from the citizens it should be serving, she said.
- Create a system of alternative diplomas for students who aren't enrolled in a traditional high school. This was an idea suggested to her following a visit to White River's Collins Alternative High School.
- Implement programs to promote foreign language skills, particularly in Spanish and Chinese given today's business climate. Roach cited a survey her office conducted in 2007 in which 284 of 296 school districts reported the dominant languages taught at the elementary school level were tribal languates. (see PDF with this story)
- Get parents and families back into the conversation about education reform that is currently dominated by big business and teacher unions. While current state laws regard truancy incorporates the possibility that parents are fined up to $25 per day for unexcused absences by a juvenile court, Roach advocated that penalty apply for all unexcused absences. This was not so much to generate revnue for the state, she said, but to provide a wake-up call to parents that it's important to make sure children get to school every day.
Tricky Work Ahead
Roach recognizes that to pursue and meet these goals under the bigger picture of passing a budget, voters don't want new taxes.
That's been illustrated by voters' repeated approval of initiatives making it more difficult for the Legislature to approve taxes, and she said she believes Jay Inslee's promise of new new taxes.
But that leaves lawmakers with the difficult task of putting a budget together under those constraints. There is plenty of waste in government and they will have to zero in on the unnecessary spending. "We have to prioritize spending like we've never done before," she said.
Some citizens voiced skepticism that the state can continue to support important priorities like education and transportation needs without being able to move away from a reliance on property taxes. Resident Cindy Proctor said she worries that has the Plateau sees imminent development and property values rise, modest-income residents will be priced out of their homes. Proctor put forth that an income tax might be a necessary next step.
Roach countered that voters have voted on an income tax nine times and summarily rejected it nine times. "It's clear people don't want the tax increase," she said.
Other Goals for Roach:
Rainier School: Roach also continued her strong support for the Rainier School in Buckley both because of its importance for the Plateau economy and because it represents values of compassion that residents she represents shares.
CPS: Roach said she'll continue to work for Child Protective Services reform and cited the plight of the Stuth family in Enumclaw from a few years back as a prime motivation. Only 30 percent of children in Washington get to go back to their biological families, she said.
Hospital District: Roach would investigate the current strategic alliance between Valley Medical Center and the University of Washington Medicine in which the spending of taxpayer money collected under Valley was no longer overseen by an elected body.
More Town Halls:
Roach will continue to meet with local constituents at several more meetings throughout January.
When: Saturday, January 12, 2013
Where: Edgewood City Hall
2224 104th Ave. E
When: Saturday, January 19, 2013
Where: Bonney Lake Fire Station #11
18421 Veterans Memorial Drive East
When: Saturday, January 19, 2013
Where: South Prairie Community Center
121 NW Washington Street
Should you be unable to attend the town hall meetings, please e-mail your questions or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org . Mail can also be sent P.O. Box 682, Auburn, WA 98071