Opinion

Creating a state that leaves no citizen behind - Island Forum

By Sen. Brian Weinstein

This week marks the beginning of the 2005 legislative session -- my first as senator for the 41st Legislative District. I would like to thank the citizens of Mercer Island for their overwhelming support in the months leading up to Nov. 2. Along with my colleagues, Judy Clibborn and Fred Jarrett, I look forward to serving you. We already are sharing ideas in a bipartisan fashion, and we will continue to do so. I expect this to be a productive session, filled with both difficult decisions and great opportunities.

Although we are still smarting from a contentious gubernatorial race, and we face a $1.8 billion budget shortfall, I hope legislators can come together to find creative ways to support the programs and services that are so critical to Washington citizens. Drafting the budget will be a challenge, but I am optimistic we can preserve the priorities and values we hold dear.

In addition to the budget, lawmakers will focus on several other important issues this session. At the top of my list is working to achieve the best public education system in the country. Now that voters have once again rejected charter schools, we can turn our full attention to our existing schools.

My three children attend public schools, so I know firsthand the importance of high-quality teachers and education programs. Today's students face tougher academic standards than ever, as they must to succeed in the new global economy.

Washington voters sent a clear message to Olympia a few years ago, calling for lower K-12 class sizes and cost-of-living increases for public school employees. Yet the Legislature put these measures on hold.

It's time to fulfill these promises. Our students deserve to learn in classrooms that aren't packed to the rafters, and our educators deserve to be fairly compensated.

This year, we will strive to make sure students are adequately prepared for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL), and that the provisions for alternative assessments are implemented, and are fair and reasonable.

It's been more than 25 years since the state took a serious look at how we spend our public education dollars. The paramount duty of the state is educating our public school students, but our funding system has not kept up with the changing times. Kids face learning challenges unheard of a quarter of a century ago. It's time for a complete, impartial K-12 finance study that will yield an accurate picture of our current education funding needs. Our children and future generations deserve nothing less.

The problem of transportation gridlock will, of course, continue to be on the agenda. Last year's flawed RTID proposal set us back. Now is the time to move forward. We must work hard to find solutions that include not only additional roads and lanes on our highways but environmentally friendly, efficient mass transit to the Eastside, all the while keeping in mind that Mercer Island residents have only one way off the Island.

We should work together with all the stakeholders in the region to convince them of the Island's unique problem and preserve the ability to use the HOV lanes. This can only be accomplished by working with our fellow cities.

Several health care issues also are likely to be at the forefront this session. We must look at ways to make prescription drugs more affordable, and to encourage stem cell research in our state's growing biotech research industry. We also should keep an eye on state mental health funding; for someone suffering from mental illness, access to quality treatment can be just as important as chemotherapy for a cancer patient or insulin for a diabetic.

We clearly have plenty to accomplish this session, and I'm eager to get started. I'll be keeping the well-being of all Washington residents in mind as I get to work.

Sen. Brian Weinstein, D-41st Legislative District, is assistant majority whip as well as vice chair of the Senate Early Learning, K-12 & Higher Education Committee and vice chair of the Judiciary Committee. He also will serve on the Senate Transportation Committee.

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