By Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press
RENTON — Gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee said Thursday any new dollars the state brings in through the economic recovery and his plans for job creation and budget cuts should go to education first.
In detailing his ideas for K-12 education, the Democrat said he would prioritize those new dollars toward all-day kindergarten, smaller classes in the early grades and more money for preschool.
Like his Republican opponent, Attorney General Rob McKenna, Inslee is in favor of great teachers, innovative schools, higher graduation rates and preparing kids for college and work.
Inslee, a former U.S. representative, told The Associated Press he also wants to start an innovation fund to give competitive grants to schools that want to try new approaches. The son of a high school teacher shared his ideas at one of Washington’s official innovative schools, Renton’s Talbot Hill Elementary.
Inslee answered his critics who say he’s too closely aligned with the teachers union, by saying he knows how and when to disagree with his friends, and mentioned voting against the war in Iraq.
Standing nearby was the president of the Washington Education Association, Mary Lindquist, who smiled and nodded at many of his ideas.
Inslee said the center of his plan is improving the economy and creating jobs, because without new dollars coming into the state, there won’t be more money for education.
He criticized McKenna for trying to pay for education reform without new money.
“My opponent has not been honest with Washingtonians,” Inslee said. “It (money) can’t come from thin air.”
Legislators made significant cuts to education in recent years as they struggled to balance the budget. They also suspended programs designed to keep class sizes low.
McKenna has said he plans to take dollars from other parts of state government to pay for his education plans and make education a higher percentage of state spending. Among his ideas that Inslee does not agree with are bringing public charter schools to the state, but for the most part the two candidates’ plans are much aligned
They both have some new ideas, however, like Inslee’s innovative schools fund and McKenna’s superintendents training academy. Inslee wants to pay mentor teachers extra and McKenna wants to give financial rewards to the best teachers.
Neither gets very specific about how to improve graduation rates or raise education standards, but both agree that answering the Washington Supreme Court’s ruling that the state needs to cover the cost of basic will be a top priority of the next governor.
In responding to Inslee’s education plan on Thursday, McKenna accused Inslee of stealing his ideas.
“I appreciate that Mr. Inslee has copied several ideas from my own work and speeches on education from the past few months,” McKenna wrote in a statement. “However, copying isn’t allowed in school, and the voters of Washington state deserve better in their next governor.”