By Shawn Skager
Legislators from the 47th District got an earful from constituents this past Saturday at a town-hall-style meeting at the Golden Steer Steak n' Rib House in Kent.
Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, and Rep. Mark Hargrove, R-Covington, were there to talk about progress being made during the current session of the Washington Legislature, and to answer questions from the packed house.
Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, was also scheduled to appear but was unable to break free from his duties as Majority Leader of the House, sending a legislative aide instead.
Among the hot-button topics for voters of the 47th District – which includes residents of Auburn, Kent, Federal Way, Covington and Renton – were concerns about public education funding, future transportation plans and budgeting.
"I think that the number of people in this room indicates there is a lot of stuff going on down in Olympia that is important to a lot of people," Fain said. "Certainly, there are a lot of issues where there is common ground and we're coming together, and there are a number of issues where there is some distance, and we need to work through and figure the best path forward."
Fain cited the McCleary Decision, in which the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that "the Legislature is not meeting its paramount obligation to amply fund basic education."
"Over the last biennium," Fain said, "we've increased funding to public schools by over a billion dollars.
With a large contingent of educators in the audience, education was the foremost topic for many.
Cathy deJong, an Auburn School District teacher and a former president of the Auburn Education Association teacher's union, asked the legislators to "explain why the Legislature is currently proposing to tie student test scores to teacher evaluations."
"That's a very difficult topic, not a surprise," Hargrove responded. "I think most of us agree that if there is some way to measure someone's performance, that we should have that. Every job needs some way to measure performance, so you can decide if they need to be rewarded, or if they need help improving. Forty-nine states get the waiver for No Child Left Behind ... but Washington state is the only one that lost that two years ago. We lost $40 million that could be helping the students who need it the most to pursue their education. This is a way to regain control of that money."
Hargrove said he shared the teachers concerns about the test, specifically whether it could accurately measure performance.
"I think there are some concerns there, but I think if there are 49 other states that have figured a way to retain this money, then we should be able to figure that out as well."
Hargrove added that a bill on the topic is moving through the Legislature.
Fain elaborated on the subject, adding that the loss of money hit Title I schools hard in the 47th District, which serves high numbers of low-income families.
The loss of the federal funds have hit the Kent School District to the tune of $1.1 million, with Auburn taking a $625,000 hit.
Also on the minds of audience members, among them members of the taxi industry in South King County, was possible legislation that would regulate start-up ride services such as Uber, which competes with taxis.