From yesterday's Moscow-Pullman Daily News:
Ninth District Rep. Joe Schmick doesn't believe students, parents and counselors in rural Whitman County and throughout the state know as much as they could about distance learning.
He hopes a bill he sponsored will help them become better access online educational offerings.
The freshman Republican from Colfax is ending his first legislative session in Olympia with success - two of his bills passed through the House and Senate in the last week of the 60-day session. The bills are sitting on Gov. Chris Gregoire's desk, waiting to be signed into law.
One of the bills would require the state to disseminate online education information to students, which he said will help constituents in his rural district.
House Bill 3129 will require the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction to include information about accessing online learning on its Web site. It also would require high schools to ensure that teachers and counselors have information about online learning and that districts provide this information to all high school students in grades 10-12 and their parents.
Schmick is on the House Higher Education Committee, which recently revised its 10-year strategic plan. He said the lack of emphasis on distance learning is "one of my pet peeves."
"As we went through this process, they don't talk about distance learning," he said. "A lot of people in rural districts have jobs and can't run off to a bricks-and-mortar school."
Some high schools already have gotten in on the act. Pullman High School offers online education to its students, and Colfax High School is looking to require students to take one online course as part of its diploma requirements, said Colfax Superintendent Michael Morgan.
"More and more businesses are requiring online education, so that's something we're thinking of as a district, to make sure students are familiar with online learning," he said.
Schmick said he did not draw inspiration for the bill from his constituents.
"It's more a matter of knowing the area where I'm from," he said. "If you live in Kahlotus, even to better yourself you have to drive to a school."
Online learning has been offered, he said, "but no one knew about it."
Schmick recalled a January visit by consultants to the Higher Education Committee, and said they provided information on workforce projections, literacy and test scores.
He said one of the consultants told Washington legislators that people entering the work force in the next 25 years will be less educated than those who are retiring. Meanwhile, job growth will be concentrated in occupations that require higher education.
"As this current generation retires, we're not replacing these workers with people," Schmick said.
These factors led Schmick to propose his bill. He also sponsored House Bill 3200 to make it easier for counties to establish local cemetery districts. He sponsored the latter bill was upon requests from people in Asotin County. Both bills passed Saturday but have not yet been signed into law.
Rep. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, said Schmick has performed admirably considering this is his first session after being appointed to replace former Rep. David Buri in November.
"It's quite an accomplishment to have two bills passed in his first session, which began just weeks after his appointment, Schoesler said. "I think it's remarkable that a freshman in the minority can get two bills passed."
Schmick said he's had a steep learning curve,
"The biggest thing that surprised me was the pace; we were here two weeks before the first cutoff," he said. "There was such an array of issues - annexation, public utilities to land use. A variety of items come before you."