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Originally published February 10, 2009 at 4:33 PM | Page modified February 10, 2009 at 4:46 PM

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Lynne Varner / Times editorial columnist

For education, here comes the (much-needed) rain of a stimulus bill

Whether the final amount of stimulus for public education is $80 billion, $140 billion or something in between, the federal infusion of money will be sweet rain for a parched landscape.

Seattle Times editorial columnist

stim-u-lus — stim-yuh-luhs — something that incites to action or exertion or quickens action, feeling, thought, etc.

"Saturday Night Live" owes its lifeline to our political process, a point illustrated beautifully in a recent skit about Congress' machinations over the economic-stimulus bills.

The cast member pretending to be House Speaker Nancy Pelosi huffs and puffs while enduring yammering about bipartisanship by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's character.

"I only wish we had Democratic control of both houses," the Pelosi character pretends to sympathize. "Oh wait, we do."

Right. The House has the votes and the clout and is using it, particularly in the area of stimulus spending on education. The House version includes $140 billion in stimulus spending on schools; the Senate's version — pushed through by a razor-thin margin — includes just $80 billion.

"We made no concessions," the Pelosi character tells her Senate counterpart. "We don't have to."

Tough times calls for tough measures, like the House's understanding of the need for a domestic version of the Powell Doctrine to gird our educational system against draconian budget cuts.

In Washington state, parched education programs have been waiting for rain. The proposed infusion of federal cash targets the right places with the bulk of the money helping to educate poor children and the disabled.

Let it rain.

Schools aren't highways but they will create jobs nonetheless. A proposed $2 billion investment for early-learning programs including Head Start — proposed by the House; the Senate reduces this number by half — could create 60,000 jobs nationwide, many in our state.

Jobs will be saved. The House version of the stimulus includes funding to replace state funds eliminated by budget cuts. That's an extra $800 million for our state. It may be the money that keeps the class-size-reduction initiatives and the jobs of 4,000 teachers.

Keeping teachers in the classroom and out of the unemployment line seems a good use of stimulus money to me.

The House version of the stimulus plan also includes a one-time allotment for building maintenance. This state pays little more than half the costs of maintaining schools. No surprise then that most school districts have maintenance backlogs that are frightening and potentially dangerous. The $200 million in one-time money our state would receive would help whittle the backlog. The Senate's version? Nada.

Fortunately, lawmakers in both houses grasp the need to spend more in special education. Washington state is in line for $120 million in new annual spending courtesy of the economic stimulus. For Seattle and many other school districts, the money would put more special-education services in all schools and end the segregating of kids with special needs in just a few schools. The money would also pay for training teachers to work with children with learning disabilities.

There will be new federal money for technology and to pay for educating homeless children. Pell grants will be increased and the underfunded No Child Left Behind federal law will get a much-needed infusion.

It is a lot of money. There is a place for every penny. Education costs are outstripping their funding, whether we're talking salaries, utilities or insurance.

Opponents' fear of waste doesn't have to become reality. The federal money comes with tight strings and ought to be received with an eye toward control and transparency.

Lynne K. Varner's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. Her e-mail address is lvarner@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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