In our view: Cheers & Jeers

Vancouver schools try a holistic approach; Legislature neglects higher education

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Cheers: To Vancouver Public Schools for its “opportunity zone” approach to raising test scores at schools that landed on the federal under-performing list. The district established the zones in 2010 after realizing it would take a coordinated effort to reach both students and their families in order to raise test scores in some of the district’s most impoverished neighborhoods. For the families, nine family-community resource centers were established. They offer parenting classes, connections to social service agencies and even food banks, among other assistance. For the students, more tutoring was added to schools, along with more technology and additional teacher training. In all, 14 schools and their communities are being served by the opportunity zones. The program has had considerable success and is now gaining national attention.

Jeers: To Washington’s failing grade at supporting higher education. A new study by the University of Pennsylvania shows the Evergreen State fails to meet its responsibility to provide enough access to higher education, meaning that employers who need highly trained workers must either import the workers or export the jobs. For many years, Washington has offered comparably fewer slots at its state universities than most states — an argument that helped lead to the establishment of Washington State University Vancouver — and the situation has become more acute. Part of the problem is that higher education is one of the few areas neither protected by the state constitution or federal rules, which makes it an easy target for budget cuts. Even as legislators grapple with court rulings forcing them to fully fund basic education, it needs to keep in mind the need for more access to higher education.

Cheers: To more retail sales in Clark County. Data released by the state Department of Revenue this week showed taxable retail sales grew by 4.7 percent in the third quarter of last year compared with 2010. Sales in retail stores grew 3.5 percent. Those are both considerable improvements after quarters of sluggish, at best, sales growth. It’s worth noting that the sales increases came despite the anemic real estate market. In past years, homebuilding activity was a major driver of sales increases. In the third quarter of 2011, automobiles were a hot commodity as consumers finally decided to trade in their tired vehicles, which they held onto longer due to the sickly economy.

Jeers: To the Mohegan Tribal Gaming Authority’s financial house of cards. The Connecticut-based group, which has partnered with the Cowlitz Tribe in an effort to develop a large casino near La Center, faces a March deadline to restructure nearly half of its $1.6 billion debt. So far, its efforts have been unsuccessful, and the tribal gaming authority’s CEO says finding new financing is “an extremely complicated process.” We hope members of the Cowlitz Tribe will look at the Mohegan example and realize that tying their economic future to gambling is a risk not worth taking.

Cheers: To this bit of common sense: leaving old shipyard trash, which for 60 years has been buried near the Marine Park boat launch, alone. A study of the site has detected no contamination leaking into the nearby Columbia River or groundwater, and the recently discovered dump was paved as a parking lot back in the 1980s, putting an impermeable cap over the trash, believed to consist of old timbers, buckets and steel. The city will keep an eye on it and has placed a legal covenant prohibiting development on the site.

Jeers: To the forecasting of snow. We don’t want to minimize the inconvenience and danger posed by a winter storm, but it seems like the TV weather personalities often try to create a maximum uproar when the threat of snow is minimal.