Afternoon Jolt: Ed Reformers Lose Top Advocate on Committee

By Josh Feit January 3, 2011

A hot topic during this year's legislative elections ---and, in turn, for the upcoming legislative session---is education, featuring a battle between the teachers union and groups like Stand for Children (SFC) that want teacher accountability to be tied to student testing.

Last month, we reported that education activists (the SFC crowd associated with the Waiting for Superman movie that's critical of unionized teachers) got a fright when one of their favorite state legislators, state Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44), was taken off the education committee after leadership's first pass at committee assignments. The final list for the session is out and Hobbs is off the committee.

Stand for Children spent nearly $21,000 in independent expenditures supporting Hobbs this past election season. The Washington Education Association (the teachers' union) spent $5,000 against Hobbs.

Indeed, both sides will be keenly interested to know that there are several new faces on this year's senate education committee, many of whom were supported and opposed by both sides. Breaking the membership down between pro-teachers' union and pro-SFC members, it looks like a bit of a draw.

Despite losing Hobbs, the SFC crowd will be pleased to see that newly elected Republican state Sen. Steve Litzow is the ranking GOP member on the committee. Litzow, who got more than $6,000 from Stand for Children in independent expenditures, is another SFC favorite. (SFC's big contributors include $25,000 from Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's wife Connie, Camas-based investor Steve Nierenberg, developer Jon Runstad, real-estate investor Ken Alhadeff, and gay-rights group Equal Rights Washington PAC. Full disclosure: PubliCola investor Rajeev Singh has also contributed $12,500 to SFC.)

Another newly elected Republican, Andrew Hill (R-45), is also on the committee. Hill was opposed by the Washington Education Association (the teachers union), which spent nearly $15,000 to defeat him. His election bodes well for reformers. Oddly, though, the Democrat he beat, Eric Oemig, was supported by both the union and Stand for Children.

Another new face on the committee is newly elected senator Sen. Nick Harper (D-31). Harper was supported by the teachers' union with more than $10,000 in independent expenditures. And state rep turned state Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-34), another union favorite, is also on the committee. (The union did not spend big on Nelson as she was a shoo-in. )

Committee members Rodney Tom (D-48) and Curtis King (R-14) are both favorites of the reform crowd. (Tom got nearly $5,000 from SFC). And King unsuccessfully fought to upgrade the reform bill to ensure that it met President Obama's Race to the Top standards—something the Waiting for Superman crew supports—last session.

Returning chair Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe (D-1) is well-liked by the WEA, and they have supported her campaigns in the past.

I have calls out to both the union and SFC.

Meanwhile, here's  a list of all this year's state senate committee assignments.
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