"The difference between myself and my opponent, is that I am not making promises of millions and billions of dollars that would just come in from thin air," Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Jay Inslee explained today after introducing an education plan that is at times less a plan, and more a list of objectives and priorities. But among his more concrete proposals, Inslee announced plans to phase in funding for full-day kindergarten, to provide early learning to all ECEAP-eligible 3- and 4-year-olds, and to expand the "Innovative Schools" program like that in place at Renton's Talbot Hill Elementary School where he spoke.
How to fund these and other education investments? First, Inslee points to his economic plan, explaining that growing the economy and reducing unemployment is the key to improving revenue. But he also intends to look for new education dollars by closing unproductive tax loopholes, finding new efficiencies via "Lean Management," and by "bending the rate of medical inflation."
Inslee's liberal use of the keywords "innovation" and "accountability" made for a speech that even a conservative Republican might love, as would the absence of any big new spending plans. "We cannot simply wait for a magic pot of money to arrive from Olympia," Inslee emphasized in explaining his decision to set immediate priorities "in light of the economic reality we have today."
But Republicans would be left unhappy by Inslee's refusal to support union-busting charter schools, a scheme he noted that has twice been rejected voters. Instead, Inslee says he wants to focus on investing in reforms "proven to make the biggest difference." Like early learning:
"Early learning is the single most meaningful cost effective investment we can make in our children," Inslee emphasized before quoting a Department of Early Learning statistic that shows that every dollar invested in high-quality early learning returns up to $17 in benefits from lower costs for special education, repeating grades, child welfare, public health, and incarceration. The expansion of ECEAP alone (the state's companion to federally funded Head Start) will save our schools hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
To be honest, I would have preferred a bolder education plan—one that included a commitment to universal preschool, while specifying the new revenue to pay for it. But at least Inslee has shown he has his priorities straight, and with seven months to go in a dead-heat race, there's still plenty of time to insert a little more boldness.
[Updated post to correct opening quote from "billions and billions" to "millions and billions"]