State senator to address classroom issues with bill

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

OLYMPIA — The three elected voices of 24th District residents agree that funding state education will be the biggest issue on the state Legislature's plate for the session beginning today — and the district's state senator plans to sponsor a bill to address that issue.

State Sen. Jim Hargrove, a Hoquiam Democrat, said he plans to sponsor a bill in the state Senate targeting changes, such as improving the classroom environment for students with behavioral issues, rather than just pump money into existing programs.

“So we aren't just continuing to do things as we've always done them with the same money,” Hargrove said in a telephone interview.

Hargrove, who along with Reps. Steve Tharinger and Kevin Van De Wege — both Sequim Democrats — represents Clallam and Jefferson counties and a third of Grays Harbor County, said his staff members are researching education programs backed by scientific evidence and plan to have a list within the next few weeks.

Hargrove said he doesn't necessarily expect his specific bill to be passed but hopes it will be a catalyst for discussions on funding for basic education that the state Supreme Court has ruled must happen.

In a ruling called the McCleary decision, the Supreme Court said last January that the state is not meeting its constitutional obligation concerning education funding.

The decision is named for Stephanie McCleary of Chimacum, a parent and lead petitioner in a lawsuit started by Chimacum School District under former superintendent Mike Blair and joined by a coalition of school districts, parents and education groups.5The court said the state must fully fund basic education by 2018.

Most lawmakers agree that the Legislature must find about $1 billion for a down payment on the estimated $4 billion needed to pay the full cost of basic education, including recent reforms like all-day kindergarten and class size reduction, according to The Associated Press.

“My biggest goal for the session is to start to change the whole argument from how much we spend to what we're going to spend it on,” Hargrove said.

Tharinger agreed with Hargrove on how to fund specific changes to the basic education system, saying he planned to support a bill expected to be sponsored by Rep. John McCoy, D-Tulalip, that would bring state testing standards closer to federal requirements.

Tharinger said the current system tends to encourage teaching students for the Washington Measurements of Student Progress test and High School Proficiency Exam, which tests knowledge in language arts, math and biology, while sometimes not leaving enough class time for other skills, such as vocational skills.

“If we don't allow time in the school days for those types of students, they'll drop out,” Tharinger said.

“Testing is important, but I don't think it should be the sole metric.”

Said Van De Wege: “We're all going to have to come up with some kind of an agreement” on changes to the state's educational system.

“We're moving in the right direction. I think it will turn out well.”

Hargrove said hundreds of budget issues, such as state general fund support for state parks, also will be scrutinized.

“Depending on who you are, everyone has a different issue that's their No. 1 issue,” he said.

Funding for public safety and health care are priorities for Hargrove.

If funding levels are not maintained in those areas, it would likely cost the state more in the long run, he said.

“If it's life and death, that probably comes out ahead of parks,” Hargrove said.

Tharinger said the state should put money into its parks.

Revenue from the Discover Pass, put into effect in 2011 to generate money for parks and other state agencies, has been disappointing.

Tharinger suggested that physical improvements that could increase use of the parks could perhaps find some funding in the capital projects budget.

“If we had a robust general fund picture, I'd support state parks entirely out of the general fund,” he said.

“[But] I don't think there's a clear pathway unless our budget situation improves.”

Van De Wege said State Parks is one agency he pays the most attention to, and he plans to speak frequently with parks representatives as the session unfurls.

Though tough spending decisions undoubtedly will have to be made, Hargrove said he doesn't expect major additional revenue sources to be on the table since voters made clear that new taxes should not be implemented without strong evidence supporting them.

“I don't see any significant amount of new revenue happening unless the public supports it,” Hargrove said.

In November, voters approved Initiative 1185, affirming their support for requiring tax hikes to be passed by two-thirds legislative majorities or receive voter approval.

Even if the state's high court decides the requirement is unconstitutional, Hargrove doesn't think the Legislature would pass major new taxes unless the public wants them.

Tharinger said legislators need to look at the possibility of new revenue but should seek it through scrutinizing tax exemptions.

Van De Wege said he doubts any major new sources of revenue will be established, adding that legislators most likely will lean toward bills that improve government efficiency and reduce spending.

In addition to statewide matters, Van De Wege said he and Tharinger hope to prevent the expiration in June of a tax incentive for buyers of wood waste left over from logging operations, referred to as hog fuel.

Van De Wege said this incentive, the renewal of which he said Tharinger is spearheading, would help both the Port Townsend Paper Corp. and Nippon Paper Industries USA in Port Angeles, as both mills are working on biomass cogeneration plants, which would burn hog fuel to produce energy for the mills.

Though biomass opponents have widely voiced their feelings about these plants, Van De Wege said he thinks clearing such hog fuel out of working forests helps reduce the risk of wildfires as well as places where invasive species could live.

“I know we have a constituency on the [North Olympic Peninsula] that are not fans of burning biomass, but I think we all agree it's better than burning fossil fuels,” Van De Wege said.



Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 13. 2013 11:27PM
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