Inslee after Obama meeting: Education is road to opportunity

Governor in D.C., keeping eye on Legislature's actions

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SEATTLE — After meeting today with President Barack Obama, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he is even more focused on increasing opportunities for American workers.

Inslee said in a conference call from Washington, D.C., that he and the president agree: Education is one of the best ways to accomplish that.

Raising the minimum wage and building a clean-energy economy were two other focuses at a White House meeting with a group of Democratic governors, the governor said.

The governor said he hasn't given up on the Legislature's putting more money into education this year, though there are only three weeks left in the session. He criticized some state Senators for wanting to do nothing on the education budget this year, calling that just kicking the can down the road. "We're hoping some of our Republican colleagues have an epiphany," he said.

The Washington Supreme Court has told the Legislature it must make meaningful progress on the requirements of its 2012 McCleary decision, which said the state is not meeting its constitutional duty to amply pay for basic education and that the state depends too much on local dollars.

"We have a number of legislators who think zero is a good answer," the governor said. "You can run but you cannot hide from this McCleary decision."

State Sen. Andy Hill, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, has said Republicans are just as committed to providing amply to educate Washington children as Democrats.

Inslee also talked about the president's push for post-high-school education and training for students who aren't going to college, and he previewed a Sunday meeting he has scheduled with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

The governor hopes to resolve a stalemate between federal officials and the state Legislature over the state's system of evaluating teachers and principals.

The federal government has said Washington must require school districts to use student scores on statewide tests as a factor in teacher evaluations. The current law does not mandate it.

Washington has a waiver from provisions of the No Child Left Behind law. It could lose the waiver and some federal money by not changing the current law. No other states have been given a pass on this issue.

Inslee said he will press the state's case with Duncan, but may still need the Legislature to act. This week, the state Senate defeated a bill that would have made the required change.

On the minimum wage, Inslee said, he and the president also agree on the connection between economic growth and a higher minimum wage.

Inslee said he would like to see the state and nation ramp up the minimum wage to make up for ground lost over the past decade. The economy will grow and the need for public assistance will decrease if the minimum wage goes up, he said.

The president, supported by some of Washington's congressional delegation, is pushing for a federal minimum wage of $10.10 an hour. Washington state has a minimum wage of $9.32.

Inslee said he also supports Seattle's and other communities' independent efforts on the minimum wage. Seattle officials are discussing an increase to $15 an hour.

Inslee also said that his administration has begun looking into how it could raise the minimum wage for state employees and contractors, something he said could be done by executive order, but that it would be months before any decision on it.