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Sept. 18, 2020

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Stonier expected to prioritize education issues based on political career

By , Columbian political reporter
Published:

In announcing his retirement as House speaker, Frank Chopp highlighted his work on health care, housing, infrastructure and other issues.

If Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, becomes the next House speaker, she’s expected to prioritize an issue that’s guided much of her political career: education.

In her first term, 2012-14, Stonier introduced legislation reforming the state opportunity scholarship board, establishing an online resource for teachers and principals to improve education techniques, and offering a bill to help students understand their options related to graduation requirements.

Stonier was elected to Democrat Tim Probst’s 17th District seat representing east Vancouver and unincorporated Clark County. Probst said that he watched closely as Stonier shepherded bills that senior legislators would have had a hard time passing.

After losing her seat in 2014 to conservative Republican Lynda Wilson, Stonier moved to the 49th Legislative District and successfully ran for an open seat in 2016. The 2017 legislative session was dominated by how to address the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision that ordered lawmakers to fully fund basic education.

“She brought the voice of educators when they were grappling with big school funding issues,” said William Beville, president of the Evergreen Education Association, the county’s largest teachers’ union.

The package lawmakers passed capped local school levies that had been blamed for inequitable funding. It also funneled more money from the state to local school districts and relied on a property tax spike to pay for it. Although Stonier backed the deal, she said she was “incredibly disappointed in how we are paying for it.”

During the 2018 session, Stonier successfully sponsored her “breakfast after the bell” legislation intended to improve students’ access to nutrition services.

This session Stonier accomplished her “hallmark policy,” de-linking testing from graduation requirements.

“That’s what I put my name on the ballot for,” Stonier said. “That’s why I keep coming back to this place like a boomerang.”

She said that there are kids who have been accepted into college or the military but can’t get their high school diploma because they can’t pass the high-stakes test. She said that some kids are sick the day of the test or have test anxiety. She also said that the tests are “just that flawed.”

During the current legislative session, Stonier pushed back against a legislative fix to the McCleary package that unions worried would limit their collective bargaining ability.

“Anytime there has been an issue about limiting collective bargaining rights she has not minced words,” Beville said.

But she’s also drawn critics, such as Liv Finne, director of the Center for Education at the free-market-oriented Washington Policy Center. Finne said that while Stonier has pushed for more money, she hasn’t pushed for reforms to improve the quality of education.

“She was elected with strong union support and she continues to toe the line,” Finne said.

In the last two sessions, Stonier has sponsored bills that critics say insulate public employee unions from a Supreme Court decision allowing workers to opt out of paying union dues. Stonier has defended her bills, saying they ensure workers know what benefits they’re opting out of. But Maxford Nelsen, director of Labor Policy at the Freedom Foundation, called her efforts “a war on public employees’ civil liberties” and pointed out that she’s a member of a union that would benefit from her bills.

In 2018, Stonier agreed to a $3,315 settlement with conservative activist Glen Morgan. Morgan has filed hundreds of complaints with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission against mostly Democratic politicians and political committees. Many of the complaints alleged candidates filed late or incomplete campaign finance reports. Stonier, like others, described the mistakes as minor and that all the required information was disclosed.

During the current session, Democrats have advanced bills seeking new taxes they said are needed to pay for education and other services. While in the 17th Legislative District, Stonier pledged not to raise taxes, but hasn’t expressed similar feelings this session.

Beville said that Stonier has tried to work for things that would work in both districts and focused on what she can get accomplished.

“I consider myself a moderate Democrat,” Probst said. “Monica is not.”

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