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PRACTICAL and pragmatic. Gov. Jay Inslee uses those words repeatedly to describe a remedial legislative effort to protect more than $40 million in federal education money for state schools.

That’s a view lost on some shortsighted lawmakers, who appear willing to risk that money because the teachers union does not want to include statewide student-test scores in teacher evaluations. Last year, the U.S. Department of Education notified the state it is at high risk of losing its waiver from federal No Child Left Behind regulations because the state did not make inclusion a requirement.

The Washington Education Association and kindred spirits are stamping around muttering menacingly about early election endorsements if legislators dare to include the tests in evaluations.

Failure to act means that Title I funds already used in local programs to help low-income students could be redirected to private supplemental services, such as tutoring, with no local oversight.

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Inslee has stepped into the leadership vacuum with a nuanced plan to give the federal government what it needs to endorse the waiver: a commitment to use statewide-testing data in teacher evaluations. However, the governor’s pragmatic approach assures the broadest possible leeway. Use of the data would not start until the 2017-2018 school year.

Further, the role of the data is entirely left to school boards and districts and their contract negotiations with teachers. The value assigned to the testing data as an evaluation factor could range from 1 percent to 100 percent. That would be a local decision.

What Inslee sees and the teachers union apparently misses is the bigger picture. Getting legislation approved is elemental to seeking and securing the waiver.

Lawmakers have to give Inslee and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn something to work with as they petition the Department of Education to extend the waiver.

Preserving the waiver and local use of the $40 million takes legislative action — a tangible statement of intent so the federal education bureaucracy can check its own boxes.

What the governor’s compromise offers is a path that is another four years down the road. The language affirms local prerogatives.

José Banda, superintendent of Seattle Public Schools, circulated a letter Friday that repeated his concerns about the $2.8 million of federal funds his district stands to lose.

Thursday the governor
made a case for concrete, immediate action on education this year. He understands what is a risk.

In a time of continuing economic recovery and legal imperatives to spend more money on public education, the Legislature cannot play politics with tens of millions of dollars from outside the state.

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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