Early education. Teacher accountability. Charter schools.
Each are priorities gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna discussed Monday after visiting a special education class at Southgate Elementary School in Kennewick.
McKenna, who is state attorney general, and his opponent, U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Wash., have developed proposals to reform and improve the state's education system.
Both have targeted similar concerns, but McKenna said some of his proposals, such as allowing for charter schools and connecting student success more closely to teacher evaluations, are opposed by teacher advocacy groups but would lead to better accountability in education.
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"When's the last time you heard a public school was shut down because it wasn't performing?" McKenna said.
The state faces several challenges when it comes to education. The state Supreme Court ruled in early January that the state Legislature wasn't fulfilling its constitutional duty by properly funding K-12 education; however, the state budget remains strained by the recession. The state appears near the bottom in the U.S. Department of Education's Race To The Top campaign, which awarded billions of dollars for innovation in education.
McKenna said even without the court decision on education funding, the state clearly isn't properly providing for education.
McKenna has proposed an early education system to ensure children are ready for kindergarten. He also wants full-day kindergarten.
More school options also are important, he said. That includes the state's current designation of Innovative Schools, which includes Delta High School in Richland, but McKenna also wants state law changed to allow charter schools. While not a panacea, he said, those schools would give more latitude to educators and demand more accountability from parents and students.
"There's a reason 80 percent of states permit charter schools," he said.
Jaime Smith, spokeswoman for Inslee's campaign, told the Herald that Inslee wants districts to have the ability to create more Innovative Schools in their district. While similar to charter schools, Innovative Schools remain under the supervision of a taxpayer-elected school board, keep funding within school districts and allow teachers to be represented by unions in employment matters.
McKenna added he wants to tie student performance to teachers, making seniority less central to teacher compensation.
"We have to start paying people based on performance," he said.
Smith said Inslee supports a system where teachers who regularly perform at a high level be designated as "teacher mentors" and receive additional pay.
Inslee also has recommended making teacher evaluations "a large factor" in determining a teacher's continued employment, though seniority could still be a factor, Smith said.
Any change to the education system likely will cost money. McKenna said he wants the bulk of the state's projected increased revenues going toward education, while holding spending in other areas in check.
"General spending in Olympia can become leaner," McKenna said.
In contrast, Inslee's plan focuses on job creation to create more funding, along with closing corporate tax loopholes and other budget savings.
Smith said Inslee's plan is more about prioritization, as reviving the state's economy is key to providing for education.
"That's why jobs are his No. 1 priority," Smith said.
-- Ty Beaver: 582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org