Originally published Sunday, October 2, 2011 at 4:00 PM

Education Superintendent Dorn right to defend K-12 budget

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn often takes a rebel's stance on education issues. In this case he is a rebel with a cause, protecting public education from more damaging budget cuts.

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SUPERINTENDENT of Public Instruction Randy Dorn's refusal to slash another 10 percent from the agency's budget is an appropriate stance rooted in protecting public education.

"I have directed staff not to submit a list of options to you that would cut the State's payments for basic education by $97.3 million as requested," Dorn said in a written response to Gov. Chris Gregoire's budget directive to state agencies.

Stark choices await lawmakers returning to Olympia in November to deal with a $2 billion shortfall. But Dorn correctly warns that more cuts to the K-12 system puts Washington in violation of its constitutional duty to education.

Budget concerns go beyond OSPI — which has seen its administrative budget reduced by nearly a third since 2009 — to harsh proposals such as eliminating state-funded full-day kindergarten, class-size reduction money for high-poverty schools and levy money used to pay for basic and special-education needs.

The state Supreme Court is expected to rule soon on a lawsuit brought by school districts about the adequacy of state funding. Budget cuts that hurt kindergartners, low-income children and special education are, if not unconstitutional, immoral.

Dorn's rebelliousness is aided by the fact that as an elected official; he does not answer to Gregoire. Nor does he have the responsibility of balancing a state budget — a task held by the governor and Legislature.

The K-12 system is a $13.7 billion operation and arguably the largest portion of state spending. While basic funding has gone up to match increases in enrollment, programs and critical education efforts have been decimated.

Legislators argue that prioritizing education, from early learning to our university system, means making tough choices elsewhere. They are right. Dorn smartly is aware of that. In his letter to Gregoire, Dorn promises to work with budget writers to identify reductions and efficiencies that do not hurt kids in the classroom.

Rather than accept harmful across-the-board cutbacks in education, Dorn rightly demands a more thoughtful solution.


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