Editor’s note: Today’s editorial originally appeared in The Columbian and the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
Washington and Oregon are not the only states in which bridges are a topic of conversation. Nor is the Interstate 5 Bridge the only span needing attention in this region.
According to a new report from the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, more than 47,000 bridges in the United States are “structurally deficient,” including 382 in Washington. In Clark County, the most heavily traveled deficient span is on I-5 over the East Fork of the Lewis River at the northern edge of the county.
“Structurally deficient” is not as ominous as it sounds. It does not mean that a bridge is likely to collapse, but that one of four key elements of the structure is rated poor or worse. And Washington’s 382 bridges in need of attention is no cause for panic. That represents 4.6 percent of the state’s spans, and most other states have a higher percentage of deficient bridges — including 23 percent in Rhode Island.
But the report points out the crumbling state of the nation’s infrastructure. At the current rate of repair, it will take more than 80 years to conduct necessary fixes on the country’s deficient bridges. Even if that is a bit of hyperbole, the situation is dire; it is no less disconcerting to think that repairs would take 40 years — or 20 years. Meanwhile, the American Society of Civil Engineers estimates that some $4.5 trillion needs to be spent by 2025 to shore up the nation’s roads, bridges, dams and other infrastructure.
President Donald Trump has declared “infrastructure week” several times during his presidency and congressional leaders have indicated a willingness to work with Trump on rebuilding the country, but little progress has been made. Among the roadblocks is the fact that Congress has not increased the federal gas tax since 1993; since then, inflation has diminished the purchasing power of the tax, which is used to build and maintain roads.
Clark County residents are familiar with the needs of the nation’s infrastructure. The I-5 Bridge, while not listed as “structurally deficient,” has been deemed functionally obsolete, distressed and seismically inadequate. The state Legislature is considering funding to open an office dedicated to replacing the bridge, and Oregon Gov. Kate Brown recently wrote to officials in her state regarding a potential project. “Its current condition poses a threat to Oregon’s economic vitality and is negatively impacting the livability of our state,” Brown wrote.
There is nothing revelatory about that, but it is a sign that momentum is building for replacement of the century-old span.
In the case of I-5, concerns are more economic than structural. In the case of many other spans in Clark County, the issues are safety and reliability. But the biggest worry is that you can point in any direction and find an infrastructure project that requires attention, commitment and, yes, funding.
Infrastructure is one area in which President Trump can bring Republicans and Democrats together, identifying a common purpose and avoiding the rancor that paralyzes the nation’s capital. As Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic Speaker of the House, said last week: “This issue has never been a partisan issue. Over time, we’ve always been able to work together in a bipartisan” way.
Be it roads, dams, airports or bridges big and small, the United States must start repairing its infrastructure. Failing to do so hampers the economy and quality of life while exponentially increasing costs down the road. And that is something both parties should be able to agree on.
Paraeducator training should be funded
Over the past two decades Washington state government — as it should — has been taking steps to hold public school administrators, teachers and students more accountable for results. Students are expected to achieve a certain level of education, and they must be able to demonstrate what they have learned.
And this is one of many reasons that paraeducators, often known as teacher’s aide or instructional assistant, have become critically important to student success. Paraeducators help teachers manage classrooms with 30 or so students and often provide extra help for students, many with disabilities.
Paraeducators have generally been doing a solid job, but could they do even better with training? That’s the question lawmakers in Olympia are considering.
Right now, the only training paraeducators receive when they start work is from the local school district in which they work, which can range from thorough to nonexistent.
Since the state is responsible for funding basic education — and the work of paraeducators has become essential to the public school system — it seems reasonable that the state require training and pay for that training.
The Seattle Times reported that about 27,000 paraeducators work in schools across the state, and a state law approved in 2017 mandates four days of standardized training. Yet, no money was allocated to fund the training.
That could change. The state Senate’s proposed budget calls for $23 million to be spent on training for paraeducators while the House budget allocates about half that amount, according to The Times.
Exactly what the proper amount of money needed to get the training right is an open question, but it seems that lawmakers should try to get as close to that target as possible. While $23 million is a lot of money, it’s certainly affordable in a two-year state budget that will exceed $50 billion.
The training would seem to be cost effective as it should ultimately help more students succeed. Training essentially provides paraeducators with tools to do their jobs better.
The Public School Employees union has been lobbying for better paraeducator training — and funding for that training — since 2012. It’s now focused on getting the House to up its funding to the Senate level.
“Whether you know it or not, 21 million hours of instruction to students who are poor, disabled or immigrants are provided by paraeducators who receive no training,” said Doug Nelson, government relations director for the union. “That’s not right.”
No, it’s not. And it’s something that a few million dollars can — and should — fix.