Education Reformers Send Letter to Governor Saying Obama Money at Risk if She Bails on Education Legislation

By Josh Feit April 14, 2009

As we reported earlier this session, there is a chance that Washington state may lose millions of dollars in education funding from the federal government if state education guidelines do not line up with President Obama's reform agenda. 

Education reformers, including Microsoft General Counsel Brad Smith and Seattle schools superintendent Maria Goodloe-Johnson, laid out this case in a formal letter to Governor Gregoire late last week as the education bill remains in limbo. The reformers letter included an attachment—an April 1 letter from Obama's secretary of education Arne Duncan—which emphasized the same point. 

The bottom line is this: Unless the state enacts rules this year that will upgrade basic graduation requirements, strengthen the state's ability to hold schools accountable to standards (measures currently included the House education reform bill and the Senate bill respectively), and sets up a data system to monitor accountability measures—Washington state stands to lose hundreds and millions in federal education funding. 

Governor Gregoire's office hasn't given me a reaction to the letter yet, however, they have publicly sided with the teachers union, the Washington Education Association (WEA), arguing that now is not the time—with budget cuts leaving schools underfunded—to pass unfunded mandates on the schools. 

As we reported yesteday, the WEA made this case to legislators with letters of their own earlier this month. However, for supporters of education reform, the WEA letters seemed a bit heavy handed.

Rep. Deb Eddy (D-48, Bellevue, Redmond), for example, says the WEA letter is no different substantively from the controversial Washington State Labor Council letter (about a different bill) that backfired  and (infamously now) forced Democratic leaders like Gov. Gregoire to buck the union. 

Gregoire spokeswoman Laura Lockard said the Governor's office would not comment on the WEA letter. (Meanwhile, they weren't shy about calling the police—true—about the Washington State Labor Council's letter, which they labeled potentially "unethical" in a press release.)

The WEA, however, defended their letter today. Asked if the letter (here)—which strongly hinted that if legislators bucked the WEA, the WEA would pull financial support—was similar to the WSLC letter (which boasted to members that Democrats wouldn't "get one dime" if they bucked the union), WEA spokesman Rich Wood emailed PubliCola the following statement: 

Those ... letters to legislators simply highlight the truth: Professional classroom teachers strongly oppose these misguided bills. They believe they have an obligation to be honest and to voice their concerns. They've tried and tried to make it crystal clear to their local legislators. They've sent nearly 60,000 e-mails to the Legislature and Gov. Gregoire highlighting the need to focus on school funding solutions instead of trying to dramatically overhaul teacher certification, evaluation, compensation and school accountability. Hundreds of educators have visited their legislators in Olympia this year. 

 These letters were just one part of WEA members' attempts to communicate their opposition to these bills.

 But WEA members had nothing to do with that earlier dispute [the WSLC controversy], and I don't see the connection to these bills. Just like HB 2261 and SB 6048 are a distraction from the real issue (huge school budget cuts), trying to draw teachers into that earlier dispute misses the point.

I agree: The teacher’s union had every right to send the letter. Completely standard.

(And so did the WSLC—as the Washington State Patrol concluded after Democratic leadership turned the letter over.)

The question I’m interested in is this: Will Democratic leadership treat the WEA differently than the WSLC? And why?

Again, Gov. Gregoire's office would not comment on the WEA letter. 

[EDITOR's NOTE: Apologies if the links to the letters aren't working. Technical difficulties. Working on it.]

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