Inslee comes to vancouver to talk education

He tells teachers in Vancouver that cuts can be avoided by closing tax loopholes for businesses not creating jobs

By Patty Hastings, Columbian breaking news reporter

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Choosing schools over business tax breaks was the chief message in Gov. Jay Inslee's Friday night speech to educators with the American Federation of Teachers Washington, an affiliate of the national federation.

As the 78th annual convention wound down for the day at the Hilton Vancouver Washington, Inslee rallied the full room of teachers over the importance of adequately funding education in the next two-year budget.

His proposed budget includes $1.2 billion for schools -- what he considers a "good down payment" for the next few years. Inslee looks to avoid cuts to education by closing about a dozen tax loopholes for businesses that aren't creating jobs. He notes that in 1949, the lumber industry got a tax break on hog fuel to help the industry thrive. Now, Inslee said, that $41 million

break benefits oil and gas, an industry it was never intended for.

"We have to make a choice in our state," he said. "I'm choosing schools over tax breaks."

He looks to reel in money and put it back into the education system to focus on early childhood development; prioritize math, science and technology curriculum; reduce tuition increases for college students and ensure students can graduate from college in four years.

Proposed cuts to services benefiting the homeless, hungry and disabled would hurt our children's education, he said. There were 27,390 homeless K-12 students in Washington during the 2011-12 school year, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. It's hard to educate kids and make them competitive when they don't even have a roof over their head or food to eat, Inslee said.

"These cuts are not the way to finance education."

Those students who aren't immersed in learning early on are at risk for not graduating from high school, he said, as critical brain development happens by age 3. Although the students who excel in the PSAT and graduate from high school are doing well, Inslee wants to intervene and help those students who are struggling.

He talked about what educators have done for his sons, including Joe Inslee, who works for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is pursuing his master's degree.

"Any one group of people who can take my renegade sons and turn them into productive citizens is a great group of people," he said.

He praised those who set up Washington's government in 1889 with the foresight to make children of paramount importance. The demands of the workforce are constantly evolving, and educators have been flexible, efficient and turned around their curriculums to meet those changes, Inslee said.

Legislators look to come to an agreement over the budget at a May 13 special session.

"I hope you will be vocal and persistent and eloquent," he said to the room of educators. "We need stories about what's at stake right now."

Inslee returns to Vancouver on Monday morning to announce his pick for Clark County Superior Court judge.

Patty Hastings: 360-735-4513; patty.hastings@columbian.com.