Judge rules constitution protects K-12 funding; but college students stage walkouts to protect budgets

It’s time to stand up for education funding.

What with a judge telling the state it’s been failing in its constitutional duty to fund K-12 education, and college students and staff across the state walking out of the classroom to speak out against budget cuts in higher ed, it’s heady stuff.

“State funding is not ample, it is not stable, and it is not dependable,” said King County Superior Court John Erlick in his ruling that the state has failed in its duty to provide for the education of school children. He ordered the Legislature to determine the cost of a basic education, then pay for it.

That sounds simple enough, but the devil is in those details, and the formula has been evaded for 30 years, as Erlick also pointed out in his ruling. He also warned lawmakers  the state’s fiscal crisis is not a good enough reason to ignore the state constitution.

The case was brought by a coalition of parents, educators and community leaders. But the state may appeal the ruling, The Seattle Times’ Linda Shaw reported.

That was the one part of the decision that the state’s attorneys found comforting.
“He left the remedy for whatever ails the system in the Legislature’s hands, and we believe that’s where it belongs,” said Assistant Attorney General Bill Clark.
But while parents were ecstatic, the joy was shared by the state’s leading educator, state superintendent of education Randy Dorn, Shaw wrote.
“It’s a great day for kids.

Hope for homeless vets in Seattle – a government, nonprofit and private collaboration

There are a lot of homeless people living in cars or camping out under overpasses in Lake City. So many that the Seattle neighborhood has its own task force on homelessness. But this is a task force that helps turn words into action.

John, a Vietnam veteran who lived on the streets of Lake City for 15 years, says it’s “scary” to move into his own apartment.  He hopes he will find camaraderie in his new apartment building where 38 of the 75 units are reserved for homeless vets.
“The thing is to have people become a family here and not 75 individuals,” John told Keith Ervin of The Seattle Times. “It’s important that people watch out for each other.”
John’s sentiments remind me of Stan, who I met outside the Seattle Center last weekend after attending a session on homelessness at the Guiding Lights weekend conference. The session, presented by Bill Block, project director of the Committee to End Homelessness in King County, volunteer and author Judy Lightfoot and homeless advocate Joe Ingram, highlighted the number of homeless people in Seattle and King County, and how we as individuals can relate to them person-to-person.

Just say ‘no’ to plastic and paper – bring your own bags until lawmakers – and voters – get the courage to act

Just say no.

To paper and plastic.

An Oregon lawmaker is backing legislation to ban plastic bags. A big fight is shaping up, with plastic bag makers pointing to the  harmful effects of paper, and asking ‘who can say paper is worse than plastic?’ In Seattle last year, voters bowed to big spending by big plastic and chemical interests and voted down a proposal to  impose fees on all disposable bags.

The Oregon battle, a long shot to begin with, will be a tough one, marked by rhetoric and big spending by corporate interests that have derailed similar efforts around the nation. Expect that to continue. Why? Because nationwide, grocery stores and pharmacies go through about 92 billion plastic bags a year, compared to about 5 billion paper bags.
“The plastic industry … will try to win local battle by local battle,”  Marc Mihaly, director of the environmental law center at Vermont Law School, says of such contests. “They will intimidate where they can. If they can’t intimidate … they will try to influence legislators.”
But all of us could make the decision ourselves, and just bring our own re-usable bags. Yeah, it’s hard to remember.  And really annoying to carry five oranges, a jar of honey and three cans of dog food out of the store with no bag. But, sigh, we could save a lot of money and energy and advertising brochures headed for the landfill if we just said ‘no.’  To non-reusable bags, that is.

The Oregonian’s Scott Learn writes that State Sen.

Information and transparency as a tool for health care reform

Op-ed by Mark Trahant

Paul Levy’s Running A Hospital “is a blog started by a CEO of a large Boston hospital to share thoughts about hospitals, medicine, and health care issues.” The postings started as a lark. But when the president and CEO of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center writes openly, that sends a message that filters down throughout the system. Other hospital professionals started blogs and more hospital data was posted in real time making transparency a core value.

People already use the Web to search out medical information of all kinds (several studies show it second only to porn for Internet searches). Health organizations have a natural, built in audience of people wanting to know what’s going on.

So how do health professionals by and large manage this interest?

“Effective immediately, the Hospital is blocking access to social networking sites including Facebook, MySpace, and Twitter from all Hospital computers,” says an internal memo from another system as blogged by Levy. “The Executive Team will be working in the coming months to ensure that we have written policies in place that articulate the appropriate use of social networking sites while on duty at the Hospital. Once these written policies are in place, we have educated all employees about expectations and disciplinary action associated with violating the policies.”

The message is clear. Information is scary.

Let’s try this again: Washington state Senate passes a bill limiting the use of BPA

Mothers take great care to provide the best for their children, choosing nutritious formula and food for their young. So why is a chemical that may hinder a child’s development allowed in baby bottles and sippy cups?

That was the sentiment behind a 36-9 vote in the Washington state Senate today for a bill (SB 6248) to ban bisphenol A, or BPA, from food and drink containers for young children. Similar legislation passed the House earlier this week 95-1, but that bill (HB 1180) went further by also banning the chemical in bottles containing sports drinks such as Gatorade.

BPA is widely used in shatterproof plastic containers for food and drinks, as well as a plastic lining in cans for food and soda. Studies have shown that when these containers become hot, whether through microwaving or by pouring hot liquid into them, BPA can seep into the food or drink. This is also occurs when the plastics get scratched over time.

Federal safety regulators have expressed concern about the harmful effects the chemical could have on fetuses and young children’s brains, reproductive systems, pituitary glands, and behavior. The chemical has also been linked to a variety of cancers, diabetes, and obesity.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration “believes there are great causes for concern, especially among the youngest,” said Rep.

Red tents for the homeless in Vancouver – while the world is watching

With 500 people in metro Vancouver, B.C., hunkering down without a roof overhead nightly, an advocacy group wants to distribute red tents to the city’s homeless to make shelter on the sidewalks — at the height of the Olympic games festivities.

The Tyee reports:
Picture homeless people camped on downtown sidewalks. Big yawns inside bright red tents as the sun rises on another Olympics day. Early next month, Pivot Legal Society hopes to ask city council’s permission to start handing out 500 collapsible shelters to Vancouver’s most needy. Pivot’s rights activists want to confront a city enthralled by Olympic jubilation with the reality of local poverty. And test the limits of constitutional law.
British Columbia Supreme Court rulings have upheld the right of the homeless to camp in public spaces when there is no other shelter. So Pivot is offering donors the right to “sponsor” a tent for $100 and shelter a homeless person. With world attention about to be focused on Vancouver during the Olympic games, the timing of the Red Tent campaign is no accident.
“We want the media to experience the most liveable city in the world and also see the contradiction — that this is a city that has a chronic problem with poverty and homelessness,” Pivot Executive Director John Richardson said. “We want them to ask, ‘What is the Canadian government doing about this?'”
— Rita Hibbard

38 million pounds of electronics recycled in one year in Washington – now go get that iPad

In the Good News for Your Friday category comes this bulletin:

More than 38 million pounds of electronics otherwise headed for the landfill have been recycled during the first year of a new program in Washington state.

A similar program in Oregon collected nearly 19 million pounds of electronics in its first year. Go Washington recyclers! And you go Oregon recyclers too! Reports the Associated Press:
State Ecology Director Ted Sturdevant calls the E-Cycle Washington program “even more successful than we had hoped” and notes the total doesn’t include the thousands of still-working electronics units donated to charities.
The program, which keeps tons of heavy metals out of the environment, is paid for by manufacturers, and products can be dropped off at authorized collection points, which are listed at the program’s Web site, and are searchable by county.  The Oregon E-Cycles program also provides free recycling of electronics at statewide collection points.

— Rita Hibbard

Support for tax to pay for stormwater pollution appears lukewarm… so far

A proposal to increase the tax on petroleum, pesticides and other chemicals is being floated in Olympia as a way to raise as much as $250 million to clean up polluted stormwater. But so far, support the for the idea among leading lawmakers appears lukewarm at best.

Environmentalists are pushing the idea, which would mostly tax oil refineries to clean up stormwater runoff, the largest source of pollution to Puget Sound and other waterways in the state. The measure would sink money into the general fund initially to help meet the state’s $2.6 billion budget shortfall, with stormwater pollution getting a bigger share in future years. As key as stormwater cleanup is to the health of Puget Sound, the measure faces an uncertain future.

Voices to be heard: young adults gather at Seattle art gallery to discuss tuition crisis

Gathered in a packed art gallery on Capitol Hill in Seattle, was a group of mostly young adults. They sat on stairs, the floor, and they stood. All eyes rested upon a pull-down screen that was displaying President Obama’s State of the Union address.

They did not assemble merely to watch the president speak from the nation’s capital, but to also discuss what was going on in their own capital, Olympia. The topic of the evening – higher education.

The event, “Olympia – In a Can,” was organized by the group the Washington Bus, a politically progressive non-profit organization aimed at raising political awareness among young adults.

Joining the group via Skype, were Rep. Deb Wallace, D-Vancouver, chair of the Higher Education committee, and Rep. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, vice chair of the Finance committee, to discuss and answer questions regarding funding for higher education in Washington. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties the legislators didn’t get to share much.

Filling in the gaps were Maggie Wilkens with the League of Education Voters, Mike Bogatay with the Washington Student Association, and David Parsons with the UAW Local 4121.

With the $2.6 billion deficit that the state faces, “cuts to higher education are inevitable,” explained Wilkens to the audience.

Oregon voters say yes to tax increases to save schools and public services

In a vote closely watched by other states with budget woes, Oregon voters chose to impose corporate tax hikes and an  income tax increase on the wealthiest of taxpayers to prevent mammoth cuts to public education and other state services. It had been eight years since Oregon voters last approved a statewide tax increase, and it was greeted with relief by education and public service advocates, The Oregonian reported.
The double-barreled victory is the first voter-approved statewide income tax increase since the 1930s. Other states, facing similar budget woes, are watching the outcome closely because Oregon, after all, is a state that capped property taxes and locked a surplus tax rebate program into the constitution.

The last time voters approved a tax increase was 2002, when they agreed to bump up tobacco taxes to help pay for the Oregon Health Plan. Voters rejected income tax increases twice in recent years.
Not only did the tax measures pass Tuesday, but they passed easily — by 54 percent. Multnomah County — home to Portland — went heavily for the measures, but support was also strong in more conservative parts of the state.
Campaign ads by supporters highlighted banks and credit card companies and showed images of well-dressed people stepping off private jets.