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Originally published February 17, 2012 at 3:40 PM | Page modified February 17, 2012 at 5:00 PM

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Just Fix It | Give four-year schools more flexibility; keep pushing public-school reform

Legislators have failed to do the right thing on higher-education funding. Spending proposals by the House and Senate this time should not include disproportionate cuts to higher education budgets.

Seattle Times Editorial

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THE state Legislature must not miss an important opportunity to fulfill last year's promise to give universities and colleges more flexibility and less micromanagement.

Credit Reps. Larry Springer, D-Kirkland, and Larry Seaquist, D-Gig Harbor, for pushing through the House sweeping legislation lifting restrictions on office-equipment leasing, raising the threshold for competitive bidding and letting schools make simple purchases, such as airline tickets. Another bill would allow postsecondary schools to invest their own funds.

These common-sense reforms would go a long way toward treating higher-education institutions like the valued learning institutions and powerful economic engines they are, rather than like a state agency.

Democrat Rodney Tom of Medina and Republican Andy Hill of Redmond should get plenty of help getting these House bills through the Senate quickly. Gov. Chris Gregoire vetoed a similar measure last session. She should sign this one.

Legislators cut state higher-ed funding by nearly 50 percent — back to early 1990s levels. The House and Senate this time must not make any more cuts.

Pairing political courage with necessary reforms has been a challenge for lawmakers on the K-12 education front. A determined bipartisan Senate coalition successfully held out for strong teacher-improvement plans and evaluations that can be used in hiring, firing and tenure decisions.

Outside of a few courageous lawmakers, Democrats were mostly hostile to education reforms, including charter schools. That obstinacy came under a glaring spotlight by someone who knows them best, major Democratic donor Nick Hanauer.

In a well-publicized letter, Hanauer scolded Democrats for refusing to stand up to the Washington Education Association and support education reform. "The WEA is literally strangling our public schools to death with an almost infinite number of institutionalized rules that limit change, innovation and excellence," Hanauer wrote in a widely distributed email.

Democratic leaders risk credibility if they do not listen to Hanauer and others, who are growing frustrated over the absence of key reforms to education.

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