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Gardner's Reform Plan Dies in Special Session in Wash.

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Gov. Booth Gardner's ambitious proposal to revamp education in Washington State has died in the legislature.

Lawmakers adjourned a special session this summer without giving final approval to the plan, which called for dropping most state education rules and requirements and creating a statewide system of performance standards for students.

Despite White House backing for the program, which President Bush had hailed as a model of school reform, the Democratic Governor was unable to overcome opposition in the Republican-majority Senate.

"It came down to Senate versus gubernatorial politics," said Representative Gregory Fisher, vice chairman of the education committee in the democrat-controlled House.

But lawmakers, who had ended their regular session this spring amid a teachers' strike and without a budget agreement, passed a spending plan in their second go-round that boosted funding for precollegiate education by 20 percent, to $7.2 billion over the biennium.

"We're pretty upbeat about the budget," said Robert Maier, a lobbyist for the Washington Education Association. "If you take a look at our needs list, we did pretty well."

In April, more than 30 local affiliates of the wea in the Puget Sound region went on strike for up to 11 days to gain higher teacher salaries and increased state funding for the schools. (See Education Week, May 8, 1991.)

The union had demanded a minimum 10 percent salary increase over the biennium for teachers and other education workers. The legislature's final budget gave them a 7.55 percent hike over two years.

Legislators were able to break their budget stalemate after a state revenue forecast was increased by $73 million on June 15. That windfall, combined with a move to place more Medicaid costs on the federal government, allowed lawmakers to reach a final agreement on an overall $15.7-billion spending plan only hours before the new fiscal year began on July 1.

Reform Compromise Sought

No such agreement, however, could be reached on the education-reform measure.

The House in March passed a bill that closely followed the Governor's proposal. The Senate, however, approved a sharply different measure that would have created several new matching-grant programs and channeled an additional $171.5 million to schools. (See Education Week, March 13, 1991.)

Although a conference agreement on the two bills was never reached, House and Senate members informally negotiated a compromise, which was adopted by the House during the last week of the special session. The bill combined the deregulation language in the original House bill with a grant program for reform efforts.

But several last-minute provisions proved to be a stumbling block in the Senate. They included an expansion of the levy base for schools and removal of the master's-degree requirement for teachers.

The bill never reached the Senate floor because a majority of the chamber's 25 Republicans did not support the bill in a caucus meeting. The Governor's office and some legislators believe, however, that there would have been enough votes overall to pass the measure.

Gubernatorial aides, who persuaded the White House to lobby Republican Senate leaders over the telephone on behalf of the bill, blamed "partisan politics" for the bill's death.

"The reality was that they did not want to see this Governor get something on his agenda," charged Sheryl Hutchinson, a spokesman for Mr. Gardner.

But Jeannette Hayner, the Senate majority leader, said that besides important policy differences, lawmakers did not have enough time to consider the new bill. "There weren't 10 people in the whole Senate who had read it, never mind ready to vote on it," she said.

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