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Rob McKenna, Jay Inslee talk about “No. 1 issue”: public schools

Post by Jordan Schrader / The News Tribune on March 29, 2012 at 9:54 am |
March 29, 2012 9:54 am

A Seattle education group quizzed the two leading candidates for governor today on their education positions — an early chance, months ahead of planned debates, for both to speak at the same event.

Republican McKenna said just before ceding the stage to Democrat Inslee: “This is going to be the first gubernatorial campaign in at least 20 years where our public schools are the No. 1 issue in the election.”

Moderator Enrique Cerna of KCTS-9 posed three questions to the candidates at the Alliance for Education event, which devoted a brief nine minutes to the two candidates combined.

The two sounded similar themes on the Sheraton Seattle stage and with reporters afterward. Both stressed that poverty is no excuse for failing schools. Perhaps more surprisingly, both not only praised the state’s bipartisan new teacher and principal evaluation law that requires evaluation scores to play a part in layoffs and reassignments, but said the state should go farther.

The law leaves it up to each of 295 school districts to decide through bargaining with unions how big of a factor evaluations will be.

Inslee:

We’ve had a good start with the pilot programs. We’ve had a good start with this new legislation. … I do think there’s at least one additional change we need, which is to make sure these evaluations are a significant part of personnel decisions in the schools, and I think that probably is a statutory change that we’ll need at some point.

McKenna:

The way it’s written now, the state isn’t really involved in its implementation, and I think that’s going to pose a challenge … We’re probably going to need additional legislation that allows the state to make sure that the new teacher-evaluation and educator-evaluation system is implemented.

In his remarks on stage, McKenna also endorsed the concept behind merit pay, saying the state should “pay our great teachers more because they’re great; pay them more when they work at the most challenging schools so they’ll stay there.”

And he said charter schools ought to be on the table as an option, especially for kids in failing school districts.

Inslee demurred on charters, saying he would talk about that subject in detail when he rolls out an education agenda some time next week.

He gave a quick preview of the platform, saying he would call for making “a pool of dollars available to help schools” make innovative changes and use new teaching technologies. He also wants better collaboration between schools and colleges, which he said got a start with a project set to be tried out under a new law. And he said he would propose a mechanism for transferring information from places where innovation is happening to other areas.

“We have pockets of creativity and pockets of innovation but it is not spread widely across the state,” Inslee said.

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