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Originally published Wednesday, December 30, 2009 at 4:01 PM

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Education: looking back, moving forward

The last decade of education policymaking includes impressive hits and lamentable misses.

WITHOUT a doubt, 2009 was a tumultuous year for public education. Federal stimulus money saved teaching jobs and protected classrooms from the brunt of the state budget meat cleaver. But as Gov. Chris Gregoire's newest budget proposal proves, educational systems from preschool to college won't escape funding cuts.

Looking back, impressive gains deserve to be highlighted. Academic standards were raised. The Legislature amended the Basic Education Act, a giant leap forward in an 18-year education-reform effort.

And there were gaffes. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn decided to delay a requirement that students show competency in math and science before they can graduate.

A shift in education has been a growing dependence on voter-approved levies for basic education needs. Most districts use levies to make up a quarter or more of operating budgets, a stark illustration of how much the cost of educating students has outpaced federal and state budgets. A lingering recession and a state budget deficit hinder efforts to address this problem.

But House and Senate lawmakers should oppose efforts to decrease levy-equalization funding, a critical lifeline to property-poor districts that cannot raise money from levies.

Legislators in the next session should make the necessary changes in state law for Washington to compete for some of a $4 billion federal education fund. President Obama has been clear that states showing the most amount of creativity and willingness to solve education's problems will win a grant. Those hiding behind political intransigence will lose out.

Education reform continues into the next year and decade with an unstinting emphasis on improving struggling schools and teacher quality. It is unacceptable to move forward with the inertia and myopia that have made achieving real reforms so difficult.

Merit pay and charter schools are two promising concepts that won't go away because some want them to. Some states are experimenting with merit pay; we ought to be one of them. Students are graded according to their abilities; imagine paying teachers according to theirs.

Charter schools can be a helpful addition, rather than a feared hindrance, to our public system if educational leaders and lawmaker adhere to a vision of improving education for all students.

Our state has come along way but we must keep moving on reforms.

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