APRIL 14, 1997

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Guest Column

Increasing opportunity with welfare, school reform

reforms by Rep. Kathy Lambert
After 60 years--three generations with a welfare system that promotes dependency upon government--the Legislature this week approved legislation that represents a significant philosophical and cultural shift in how best to help those in need.
   Welfare would no longer be a one-way handout, an entitlement that undermines self-esteem, rewards failure, and promotes dependence. Under these reforms, assistance would be temporary and focused on the catalysts of success and achievement: personal responsibility, individual initiative, and work.
   The legislation redefines welfare as temporary assistance, limited to 60 months during a recipient's lifetime. Able adults would be required to search for a job, participate in subsidized or nonsubsidized work, or perform community service in return for benefits. Unmarried teens under the age of 18 would be required to attend school and live with their families or in another state-approved adult-supervised setting. And legal immigrants who require sponsors and entered the country after Aug. 22, 1996, would be ineligible for assistance for five years. (Legal immigrants receiving public assistance prior to Aug. 22, 1996, would be eligible to continue receiving similar benefits.
   This new welfare system would empower those in need to become self-sufficient as quickly and as permanently as possible. Now, having been approved by both the Senate and House, it's up to Gov. Gary Locke to sign the bill and make welfare reform a reality for the state of Washington.
   Earlier this session, the House approved a package of bills to achieve our goal of raising academic standards so students graduate with the basic skills needed to succeed in life. Those bills stressed academics, discipline, and choice in public schools: the "ADC's" of education. This week, we approved three other measures that would strengthen both public schools and higher education in our state.
   Supplemental budget: Designed to cover expenditures and adjustments for the remainder of the two-year budget cycle that ends June 30, 1997, the House recently passed a $100 million supplemental operating budget. More than $87 million of that spending plan is to help meet school construction needs and new education technology. Because timber revenues earmarked for school construction have not kept pace with demand for new and expanded schools, this budget invests $75 million toward school construction. In addition, $12.2 million is allocated for education technology, including completing Phase II of the K-20 Washington Education Network, a high-technology tool to increase access to educational materials and improve long-distance learning opportunities.
   Capital budget: The House's 1997-99 capital budget proposal includes $277.50 million to complete the job of fully funding the state's share of all projected public school construction and modernization projects for the biennium. And to accommodate increasing enrollment levels and upgrade teaching and research space, an additional $546 million is proposed for state universities and community colleges.
   Charter schools: This measure would allow school districts to sponsor independent public schools, governed by an approved charter that sets the school's educational program, with standards of student learning and performance that must meet or exceed those set for all public schools. In addition, charter schools would have to meet strict criteria for financial support, facilities, discipline, and safety. The number of charter schools would be limited to 25 in the first year and a total of 50 during the 1997-99 biennium.

Rep. Kathy Lambert represents District 45 in the Washington State Legislature.