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Here's one way to move beyond political gridlock

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It's painfully obvious that our political system is broken and to reverse that we must find a way to focus on common ground instead of partisanship and polarization.

The political parties are fixated on scoring political points while making the other guys look bad rather than developing policies that create long-term benefit to society.

One way to break this cycle is to identify issues of broad agreement as the starting point and build policies from there. The good news is that there is an organization in this state dedicated to making this kind of change. Seattle entrepreneur Dick Spady, the founder of Dick's Drive-In, has underwritten the Community Forums Network, a non-partisan community engagement project.

The network's latest project sought to find areas of consensus in funding K-12 education. To do so, they developed a survey with the help of individuals representing a broad spectrum of interests, ranging from the conservative Freedom Foundation to the Washington Education Association. The interactive survey includes video segments explaining the context of a question. That's key, because it helps people grasp the issues in a more substantive fashion.

A network of 73 nonprofits across the state encourage their members to take the survey and in some communities, public forums are held. The approach isn't perfect but it is a very good start at changing the political discussion in this state.

In the survey of education funding alternatives, several key areas of consensus were identified, including:

— Sixty-five percent said that current spending levels are not adequate.

— Seventy percent want the Legislature to fund K-12 education first before any other spending.

— About 77 percent said schools should lower administrative costs and put more money in classrooms.

— Nearly 60 percent think principals should have more control over spending at their schools.

— A strong majority agreee with the idea of a levy swap.

— A total of 72 percent think student-to-teacher ratios are important.

The folks at Community Forums Network are presenting the findings to key legislators in an effort to help them make policy decisions based on objective data. Carrie Shaw, CFN executive director, says the role of the network is not to advocate for policy ideas, but rather to share the context of the public engagement process.

A few organizations in North Central Washington participate in the network, including the Greater Wenatchee Chamber of Commerce, the Omak Chamber of Commerce and Girl Scouts of Eastern Washington. Our legislators have difficult choices to make in coming weeks about budget and policy decisions. The Community Forums Network offers them a non-partisan and independent view of where there seems to be broad consensus on education funding.

We can sit around and complain about our broken system or we can do something about it. I'm for the latter and CFN is providing a workable model. It's a start. They can be found at communitynetworkforums.org.

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