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Litzow Named Education Committee Chair Amidst State Senate 'Coup' in Olympia

Sen. Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island) and several other State Senate Republicans were named to leadership positions on Monday after Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Bellevue) and Tim Sheldon (D-Potlatch) decided to caucus with Republicans.

State Sen. Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island) was selected to serve as chairman of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee on Monday, Dec. 10 in Olympia after two Democratic Party Senators announced they would caucus with Republicans, shiftting the balance of power to the minority party.

According to the Seattle Times, "The coup" would install Democrats Sen. Rodney Tom of Bellevue as the body’s majority leader Tim Sheldon of Potlatch as the president pro tempore.

Tom said in an Olympia news conference that Democrats and Republicans would each chair six committees under the proposal, with a majority of just one vote. Three other committees would be evenly split.

Republicans would chair some of the most important committees, however, said the Times. Andy Hill of Redmond would chair the budget-writing Ways and Means Committee and Steve Litzow of Mercer Island would chair the early learning and K-12 education committee.

The Senate’s new majority, calling themselves the "Majority Coalition Caucus" will hold the power in the senate when legislators convene for the 2013 session.

Sen. Litzow, who represents the 41st Legislative District and served as ranking minority member on education issues the past two years, issued the following statement upon his appointment as a committee chairman:

“Washington needs a world-class education system,” said Litzow. “There are many students, teachers and administrators who continue to innovate and build better schools. However, we have not kept pace with the education demands of the global marketplace.

“Washington’s high school graduation rate has not improved during the past decade -- we are failing more than 15,000 high school students every year. We are one of only seven states where the ‘opportunity gap’ – persistent differences in academic achievement and graduation rates among racial and socioeconomic factors – continues to grow. This is unacceptable for a state that is a leader in innovation and technology.

“Educating all of our children and preparing them to compete in this global economy requires a better, bolder approach. We must make sure children are ready to learn when they get to school, provide our teachers and principals with the resources and authority they need to do the job and then hold them accountable for the education outcomes. I will work not only with my colleagues, outside education experts and advocates, but most importantly with teachers, administrators and parents to make sure each child in our state gets the education he or she needs to succeed.”

Litzow co-sponsored and negotiated the major teacher-evaluation measure that became law this year. He has also worked on a variety of education bills including support for early-learning programs, and serves on the Joint Task Force on Education Funding, Joint Select Committee on Education Accountability and co-chairs the Educational Opportunity Gap Oversight and Accountability Committee.

According to a press release from Litzow's Senate office, he is also currently on the board of the early-learning alliance Thrive by Five, Summer Search and the Bellevue College Foundation Board.

In a statement issued Monday, Washington State Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur applauded the power sharing agreement in the Washington State Senate:

“I am beyond excited to learn that our Senate caucus of 23 members has joined with Democratic Senators Tim Sheldon and Rodney Tom to announce a bi-partisan majority caucus which will have operational control of the Senate.  Under this new agreement, Senator Tom will be the majority leader, Republicans will chair six committees, the Democrats will chair six and three will be co-chaired. The courage of these two Democrats means that we can expect a no-new taxes budget and education reform with Republicans now chairing both the Ways and Means and K-12 committees. I know this new coalition is excited to get to work on fixing Washington's problems, and I offer my full support as they face a tough road ahead during the 2013 legislative session.”

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