Sens. Murray, Cantwell speak in Spokane

Spokesman Review - Kip Hill

Washington’s U.S. senators visited Spokane on Tuesday, each pushing federal legislation aimed at improving students’ well-being.

Sen. Maria Cantwell toured Spokane Seed Co. after touting a provision in the pending Senate Farm Bill authorizing the purchase of $10 million in pulse crops, such as chickpeas and lentils, for use in school lunches. If it passes, students would receive more nutritious meals and Washington state would gain food production jobs in an already booming industry, Cantwell said.

“Industry experts believe the initiative can help double the pulse crop acreage in Washington state,” Cantwell said. She added that the rising popularity of hummus, with chickpeas as a main ingredient, has led to an increase in sales of the food from $5 million to $250 million annually since 1997.

Cantwell’s plans also call for further research into novel ways to incorporate pulse crops into school meals. Kim Elkins of the Washington State School Nutrition Association said innovation is already underway, including using roasted lentils as a salad topping.

“You’d never need another crouton if you tried those,” Elkins said, adding that the unique ingredients were more popular among older students. Cantwell hopes the bill will pass with the plans intact sometime in the next two weeks.

Just a few miles southwest, Sen. Patty Murray visited students in teacher Michelle McKenzie’s preschool class at Lincoln Heights Elementary School. Some students in the class benefit from Head Start and the Early Childhood Education Assistance Program, McKenzie told Murray.

In March, a budget penned by Murray including additional funds for prekindergarten education passed the Democrat-led Senate. She plans to travel across the state this week gathering input on new legislation that would give state governments authority to award competitive grants to voluntary preschool programs, especially those targeting at-risk areas and students.

“It’s really important for me to hear firsthand, from parents and teachers and school administrators, what they are already doing and also the impacts that they see,” Murray said.

Murray, who was a preschool teacher before entering politics, read to McKenzie’s students, who then gave her their own book filled with drawings of what they’d learned in preschool.

Cantwell and Murray were also in town to attend a memorial service for three Fairchild Air Force Base airmen killed in action earlier this month.