Education-related policy bills remain alive in legislature

Published on Wed, Mar 27, 2013 by Kylee Zabel, Reporter WNPA Olympia News Bureau

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With most other policy bills out of the way and facing the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision mandating full funding for education by 2018, Washington state lawmakers have now moved the education issue to the top of their budgeting priorities.

With a Democratic-controlled House and a coalition-controlled Senate placing the Republican agenda in the majority, the fate of education-related bills that have passed out of their respective chambers remains uncertain.

Among education policy bills awaiting their fate are those related to performance and accountability. 

Grading schools

If approved by the House, this bill would require the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to grade schools on a scale of A–F. The grades would be determined by an existing accountability index, which evaluates levels of student achievement across different demographics. As written, the bill would require OSPI to identify five school districts in “geographically diverse” areas and begin a pilot program for the 2013–2014 school year.

The legislation, SB 5328, passed 26 - 23 in the Senate and received a public hearing before the House Education Committee on March 15. The House has taken no further action.

Third-grade reading

Passing 35–13 in the Senate, SB 5237 would require third grade students to repeat the grade or attend summer school if a failing score is awarded on the English Language Arts (ELA) statewide assessment. Also under this bill, K-4 report cards would have to report the students’ reading level; parents of any student scoring below acceptable would have to meet with the student’s teacher to discuss remediation and grade-improvement strategies.

Panic alarms 

A policy would require school districts to implement a panic alarm system. The intent of SB 5197 is to expedite law enforcement in the event of a security threat within the school. The measure passed unanimously out of the Senate and received a public hearing in the House Education Committee March 14. 

It’s no secret that Washington state schools are ranked 42nd in the nation for high school completion. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have referenced this figure time and time again to support various pieces of education-related legislation. Some would blame the low score on inadequate funding, as the state Supreme Court did in McCleary vs. Washington state, and some would say it is a result of inadequate teaching or poor curriculum. Others argue that it’s a combination of the two.

“While much of the public discussion around the McCleary decision has focused on how much money should be spent, I believe it is vital that we simultaneously focus on how money is spent in the education system,” said Representative Cathy Dahlquist (R-Enumclaw). 

House Republicans introduced a Fund Education First budget March 14, in which $903 million is appropriated for K-12 education funding. House GOP members have introduced the budget proposal, PSHB 1057, since 2006 to no avail. Funding allocations would provide $302 million for K-13 class-size reductions, $229 million to increase full-day kindergarten, $158 million to increase instructional hours in grades seven through 12 and $128 million for materials and operating costs.

No other educational budget package has been introduced thus far and with a Democratic-controlled House, it is unlikely that PSHB 1057 will move forward.

Superintendent of public instruction Randy Dorn has requested that the legislature appropriate funds to the tune of $4.1 billion for the 2013-2015 biennium. The Supreme Court’s McCleary decision did not specify a dollar amount to meet its priorities.

This year, when senators Rodney Tom (D-Medina) and Tim Sheldon (D-Potlach) took over the Senate leadership by forming the Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC), they said they would take a bipartisan approach when attempting to pass policies to assist with job creation, fund basic education and create a sustainable budget. 

Nevertheless, the Senate minority – the remaining 23 Democrats – challenged the MCC’s progress in achieving the above goals in a bipartisan manner.

“It’s a right-wing Republican agenda, as you’ve seen with the bills they’ve passed,” said senator Ed Murray (D-Seattle). 

The regular session is scheduled to end on Sunday, April 28 provided budgets are adopted.