In his campaign announcement speech, gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna positioned himself as the education candidate calling for a spike in education funding—pledging a 50/50 deal on higher funding, so that the state would cover at least 50 percent of the costs for higher ed for families (currently he estimates that families cover 75 percent of the cost.) McKenna says the percentage of the state budget that goes to K-12 and higher ed has dropped to unacceptable levels (below 10 percent for higher ed from 16 percent in the 1980s, he laments.)

Increasing funding for education is hardly a controversial stand, and McKenna's rival US Rep. Jay Inslee agrees with McKenna that the state needs to get serious about funding schools. Inslee's stump speech includes a rap about reining in health care costs to pay for education. "We have been taking money away from education to cover rising health care costs," he says derisively.[pullquote]"This particular bill emerged from the conflict-laden process all sides need to move past if we are to break the logjam and produce results for our kids."—Jay Inslee[/pullquote]

But funding isn't the only thing McKenna is pushing. He's also pushing policy changes (along the lines of Democratic President Obama, ironically). In his stump speech, McKenna consistently criticizes committee chairs in Olympia for killing bipartisan education reform legislation. He's specifically referring to a bill sponsored by state senators Rodney Tom (D-45, Bellevue) and Joe Zarelli (R-18, Ridgefield) that would have:
•Made school districts lay off underperforming teachers first, regardless of their seniority status.
•Protected underperforming schools from being forced to hire teachers from other schools.
•Given principals the authority to fire teachers who don’t show improvement after three years.
•Instituted an annual bonus policy—$5,000—for high-performing teachers.
•Phased in performance pay based on each teacher’s ability to help students.

The issue has certainly been tricky terrain for Democrats. Traditional Democratic allies, the teachers' unions, while recently warming up to the notion of tying teacher evaluations to student tests (depending), has fought much of Obama's reform agenda, such as charter schools.

PubliCola asked Inslee, whose ninth top career contributor is the National Education Association (the teachers union), if he would have supported the Tom/Zarelli bill, which passed the state senate during this year's session in Olympia, but not the house.

Inslee's spokeswoman Joby Shimomura, tells us:
"Rep. Inslee supports meaningful reforms in our education system that are student-centered and recognize the need for great teachers in appropriately funded schools. This particular bill emerged from the conflict-laden process all sides need to move past if we are to break the logjam and produce results for our kids.

We need a new approach to develop a true 21st Century educational system. Rep. Inslee is talking to and meeting with stakeholders and community members about how to get the best system in place for our students. In the coming months, Rep. Inslee will unveil his path forward on education."
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