Archive for Education

House again passes bill to eliminate high school biology test graduation requirement

By | June 11, 2015 | 0 Comments

The state House passed a bill Thursday to remove a biology test from the state’s high school graduation requirements in an effort to provide diplomas to nearly 2,000 students who did not pass the test this year.

The class of 2015 is the first class required to pass the biology test or an alternative to graduate.

“This is so much bigger than a biology test,” said Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater. He said the state loses out on $370,000 in lifetime earnings each time a student fails to obtain a high school diploma.

Rep. Ed Orcutt, R-Kalama, spoke against the bill, saying the state should not back away from its school reforms.

“I’m worried that as we retreat from some of these requirements, we’re not holding students accountable,” Orcutt said. “Accountable for learning, accountable for preparing themselves to be ready to go into the world and be successful.”

House Bill 2214 passed 83 to 6, and now heads to the Senate. The bill also passed during the first special session, but did not advance in the Senate before the Legislature adjourned for the second special session.

Republican Sen. Steve Litzow, who chairs the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, released a statement saying the bill is “not a good lesson for our children.”

“Lowering standards is a poor excuse for a decades-long failure to create an education system that works for everyone,” Litzow said.

Earlier in the day, Reykdal and Rep. David Taylor held a press conference to draw attention to the issue. High school student Jesus Celes from Franklin Pierce School District is one of the 2,000 students who did not pass the biology exam this year.

“Not only for me, but for my classmates, we all work hard and just to see this thing holding us back is heartbreaking for me,” Celes said.

Watch the press conference below:

Categories: Education

New $3.5 billion proposal aims to reduce reliance on local school levies

By | June 11, 2015 | 0 Comments

Paying competitive salaries for teachers and school employees would be the full responsibility of the state — not local school districts — under a new bill introduced by a bipartisan group of legislators on Thursday.

The proposal would cost $3.5 billion over four years starting in 2018, and would not move forward without a dedicated revenue source attached. Lawmakers at a press conference Thursday say an agreement on the price tag shows a significant step forward, but work still needs to be done to find a way to pay for it.

School districts across the state are currently using a large chunk of their local property tax levy money to pay salaries — as much as 70 percent of local levy dollars in some districts.

Senate Bill 6130 aims to reduce that reliance on local levies to address concerns raised by the Washington Supreme Court in the McCleary decision, which ruled the state was not meeting its duty to fully fund basic education.

The bill changes the definition of basic education to include competitive, market-based statewide salaries for school employees. The salaries would be reviewed periodically.

However, the salary provisions would only take effect if a revenue source is enacted by January 1, 2018 that generates enough money to pay for the increased salaries. The bill says that the state budget should not be cut to make up the additional revenue.

“The average teacher in Federal Way is paid $10,000 less than a teacher in Auburn next door,” said Sen. Bruce Dammeier. He said the bill is an attempt to make a “rational system that works across Washington,” with the goal of providing an equal education for all students.

Sen. Christine Rolfes said some teachers would receive salary increases under the bill, while other school districts would still have to use a portion of levy dollars to make up the difference. All school districts would see a “significant increase” in funding under the bill, she said.

The bill is scheduled for a public hearing Thursday at 1:30 p.m. in the Senate Ways & Means Committee. TVW will carry the hearing live at this link.

Legislators at the press conference Thursday acknowledged the bill was unlikely to advance during the current special session. The press conference will be posted at this link.

Categories: Education, TVW

Inslee criticizes Republican school levy swap proposal

By | April 23, 2015 | 0 Comments

With special session a certainty after the end of the 2015 regular session, Gov. Jay Inslee called on budget negotiators to compromise on revenue proposals to come to an agreement on the state’s 2015-17 biennial operating budget.

However, Inslee criticized a proposal by Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, that would increase funding for schools through a change in the school levy system.

Dammeier’s plan would increase the statewide levy for schools, and would replace local levy money being used for salaries and compensation with state money. Local school levy amounts would be reduced dollar for dollar. The concept is often called a “levy swap.”

Dammeier says the change would be revenue neutral statewide. However, critics, including Inslee and Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, say that Dammeier’s proposal would raise taxes in counties with high property values — such as King County — by up to $500.

Both Inslee and Ranker have capital gains tax proposals to increase state revenue. Ranker unveiled his proposal earlier this month for a 7 percent capital gains tax that would apply to gains higher than $250,000 for single taxpayer (or $500,000 per couple) and would not apply to primary homes.

Inslee called Ranker’s plan more equitable.

“I have a hard time seeing why Republicans want to increase taxes on 50 percent of the people when we could solve this problem by taxing less than 1 percent of the people — and the less than 1 percent of the people are doing pretty well in our new economy that we have,” Inslee said.

Earlier this week at a press conference with other Republican leaders, Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, addressed that criticism of Dammeier’s plan by saying reform of the school levy system will be an ongoing process.

“Sen. Dammeier’s done a great job looking at this at different levels — at the state level, at the school district level, at the teacher level — what does it do for teachers and at the taxpayer level,” he said. “In a state where you do tax reform, it takes that kind of careful analysis to get it done right. And poking at draft one or the original run of the numbers doesn’t help the process.”

However, Inslee said Thursday criticized the notion that people with high-value homes always make a lot of money.

“If we are going to ask people to contribute more for the schools, it’s not fair to put the burden on working people who are struggling to make their house payments,” Inslee said.

Lawmakers in both parties this month said the state needs to focus on levy reform as a way to address the state Supreme Court’s requirements to increase the reliance of basic school funding on the state in the McCleary decision. But Inslee told reporters on Thursday he believed that aim could be reached through raising revenue by other means.

Click through to watch Inslee’s press conference: (more…)

Frustrated with Legislature, Randy Dorn unveils OSPI K-12 plan

By | April 14, 2015 | 0 Comments

Randy DornFrustrated with the House, Senate and governor’s proposals to fund K-12 education, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn unveiled an OSPI funding plan for K-12 on Tuesday.

Dorn’s plan decreases class sizes not only in kindergarten through third grade, but also grades 4 through 12. However, it does not decrease class sizes as much as in voter approved Initiative 1351.

The plan also calls for statewide collective bargaining for teachers with regional adjustments and stretches out the deadline for full funding by 2018 to 2021. The 2018 deadline was court-ordered after the state lost the McCleary school funding lawsuit.

Dorn said he is suggesting the time extension partly because there may not be enough teachers available to hire to fill the staffing gap.

“It’s not just do you have teachers, but are they quality teachers?” he said. “I don’t just want a teacher in front of every kid. I want a quality teacher in front of every student,” Dorn said.

He also called for changes to the school levy system. Many school districts use local voter-approved levies to fund teacher salaries and other basic needs, as well as for other programs and activities that enhance schools.

Some districts have a harder time passing operating levies than other districts, and not all districts have equal limits on how high the levies can be.

Dorn says those differences put students in richer districts at an educational advantage over those in poorer districts.

“I believe this is a civil rights issue,” Dorn said.

Dorn’s plan increases K-12 statewide spending by $2.2 billion in the 2015-17 biennium, which is a greater increase in education spending than the budget proposals that have come out of the House, Senate or the Governor’s office.

Dorn suggested that some of the local levy money from school districts could help pay for that, if the state allows local levy money to be transferred to the state general fund, which would be used to fund schools throughout the state.

Dorn said that he hopes to prevent harming the districts that can get operating levies passed by phasing in the changes.

“One of our concepts is to do no harm. That’s what our hope would be that we would do no harm bringing other districts up the level of the richer districts,” he said.

However, Dorn demurred on unveiling his whole plan on how the state will fund his $2.2 billion spending increase, saying that State Treasurer James L. McIntire will talk about that plan on Thursday.

Dorn’s plan comes two weeks before the scheduled end of the 2015 regular legislative session.

“I just get the feeling that we’re going to be here longer than the next two weeks,” Dorn said.

Details on the plan released Tuesday are on the OSPI website.
(more…)

Categories: Budget, Education, McCleary

Early Start Act passes Senate, both sides yet to agree on funding level

By | April 10, 2015 | 0 Comments

More childcare providers in Washington could have training under a bill passed Thursday in the state Senate.

Kindergarten class. Photo by the U.S. Department of Education.

Kindergarten class. Photo by the U.S. Department of Education.

Under House Bill 1491, the so-called Early Start Act, childcare and preschool providers who accept state subsidies for low-income families would be required to participate in the state’s Early Achiever program.

Right now, the program is voluntary. It aims to help kids get ready for kindergarten by providing childcare and preschool providers with training to improve the quality of care they provide to children.

“This bill is about providing high-quality early learning for kids who need it most,” Sen. Andy Billig, a sponsor of the Senate version, said Thursday. “Another way to say that is that this bill is about opportunity. It’s an opportunity for children to arrive at school ready to learn. It’s about opportunity for kids are from low-income situations to break the cycle of poverty. It’s about the opportunity for the state to reap the rewards the return on investment we know come from high-quality early learning.”

In addition to childcare facilities, it also applies to state- and federally-funded preschool programs, such as Head Start, ECEAP and Working Connections Child Care.

The program includes a 1-to-5 rating system. The ratings increase with more training. Childcare providers with higher ratings are eligible for larger subsidies.

Fewer than half of the state’s childcare providers are enrolled now.

Statewide, about 30,000 children are part of Working Connections program and 8,500 are part of ECEAP.

The bill passed 31-11 in the Senate. It was passed last month in the House, and moves back to the chamber for approval.

The two chambers still don’t agree on funding. The House budget includes more than $116 million to fund the bill. The Senate includes $55 million.

Sen. Steve Litzow, Mercer Island Republican and prime sponsor of the Senate version, said Thursday that both chambers will negotiate on the funding piece of the legislation.

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Democrats say sending class size initiative back to voters risks unbalanced budget

By | April 9, 2015 | 0 Comments

Legislative Democratic leaders told reporters Thursday that lawmakers in Olympia should take the lead and limit the smaller classroom sizes that voters approved in November when Initiative 1351 passed.

Both chambers’ proposed budgets override the voter-approved classroom size reductions, reducing class sizes only in grades kindergarten through three instead of K-12. But the mechanisms to make that change differ.

Kindergarten class. Photo by the U.S. Department of Education.

Kindergarten class. Photo by the U.S. Department of Education.

Senate Republicans plan to send a referendum to the voters in November to amend the initiative.

Democrats plan to change the initiative by gathering the constitutionally required two-thirds support of the both chambers of the legislature.

House Majority Leader Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said that taking action in Olympia is the prudent route for budget writing.

“Sending it to voters is irresponsible, and puts us in a position that, we may be back in December in special session having to address,” he said.

“Their budget actually assumes that the voters will reject I-1351 when it goes back out to the ballot,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think any of us can assume that will be the case, given that the voters just approved it less than a year ago.”

The state is on the hook for lowering class sizes across all grades, unless changes are made to Initiative 1351. The measure comes with a $4.7 billion price tag over the next four years, though local districts would have greater authority to raise local taxes. Voters approved the measure 51 to 49 in November.

The two proposals also have differing requirements to pass.

The House proposal would require two-thirds approval in each legislative chamber, and a signature from the governor.

The Senate proposal would require a simple majority in both chambers for the referendum to reach the ballot, and would not need the governor’s signature. Then, the referendum would require voter approval before being enacted. If the Senate plan is approved, a referendum could appear on the ballot in November.

Citing the close vote on I-1351, Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, earlier this week said voters would change their minds when faced with the information about how much the initiative will cost.

But Senate Minority Leader Sen. Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, said, “that puts [the Senate Republicans’] budget essentially out of balance immediately.”

“This whole budget is built on an assumption of what the voters will do,” she said. “If not they have a major hole in their budget.”

Sullivan told reporters lawmakers are aware that all sides need to reach an agreement on how to amend 1351 for any of the budget proposals.

“Inaction won’t get us a result where we get a final deal and go home,” Sullivan said. (more…)

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State Senate passes budget, modifies class size initiative

By | April 7, 2015 | 0 Comments

The state Senate passed a two-year operating budget off the floor Monday, along with a bill that sends a class size reduction initiative back to the voters in an effort to save the state money.

Republican lead budget writer Sen. Andy Hill introduced the $38 billion budget Monday, saying it focuses on education and mental health without raising taxes.

“This budget balances without job-killing manufacturing tax increases,” said Sen. Doug Ericksen, R-Ferndale.

Several Democrats spoke against the budget, saying it falls short on state worker pay raises and other issues. The Senate budget gives state workers up to a $2,000 pay raise over two years, instead of the salary increases negotiated in a collective bargaining agreement with the governor’s office.

Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent, said that amounts to a “hidden tax” on state workers.

“We’ve hidden the tax on state employees and community college employees and state patrol,” said Keiser. “They all had the assurance that when the economy improved we would make things right for them. But that promise is now broken as well.”

The budget passed along caucus lines, 26 to 23, with the mostly Republican Majority Coalition Caucus in support and Democrats opposed.

The Senate also passed a bill that modifies Initiative 1351 and sends it backs to voters to ask whether they agree with the change. The initiative adopted by voters last year required smaller class sizes in all grades at a cost estimated around $4 billion through 2019. It did not come with a source of funding.

“It’s pretty clear at this point that it’s not affordable,” said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, speaking in support of changing the initiative.

The bill only pays for smaller class sizes in kindergarten through third grade.

Opponents of the bill argued that voters knew what they were doing when they passed the original initiative.

“Washington state has the 47th worst class sizes in the nation. And that’s why the people rightfully sent us to Olympia with a mission to correct that challenge,” said Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo.

The bill passed 27-22.

The House previously passed its budget. Both sides must negotiate a final budget plan.

Watch the highlights from both Senate floor debates, as well as discussion over a controversial payday lending bill, on Monday’s 15-minute edition of “Legislative Review” below.

Toddlers race around Capitol for early learning investments

By | March 26, 2015 | 0 Comments

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Dozens of preschool students raced through the Capitol Thursday as part of a push to ask lawmakers to invest more in early learning.

“We’re here to remind legislators to start and finish strong for our littlest learners,” organizer Lauren Hipp said. “Early learning really set our kids up for success, not only in school, but in life in general.”

Before the toddlers took off running in their sweatbands and race bibs — all No. 1 — they listened while Gov. Jay Inslee, budget writers Sen. Andy Hill and Rep. Ross Hunter and other lawmakers talked about ways to boost spending.

“I don’t think they were that interested in what they had to say, but hopefully they’ll be interested in what the lawmakers do for these kids,” executive director of the state’s Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance (ECEAP) programs Joel Ryan said.

Mostly, they focused on  House Bill 1491, the so-called Early Start Act. Childcare and preschool providers who accept state subsidies for low-income families would be required to participate in the Early Achievers Program.

Right now, the program is free, but voluntary. It provides training to childcare facilities and state- and federally-funded preschool program, such as Head Start, ECEAP and Working Connections Child Care.

By requiring participation, lawmakers hope to improve kindergarten readiness for low-income students. “If we get our way,” Inslee told the runners. “We’re going to have more kids who are ready for kindergarten, more kids who do well in first grade, more kids who go into STEM fields, more kids who graduate.”

The measure passed 67-31 in the state House and is under consideration in the Senate. It was voted out of a committee in the chamber Wednesday. Prime sponsor Rep. Ruth Kagi said during the event she expects a hearing in Senate Ways and Means on Friday.

Thursday recap on ‘Legislative Review’

By | March 20, 2015 | 0 Comments

Here’s our 15-minute recap of Thursday’s legislative activities on “Legislative Review.” We cover a bill that aims to help more foster care students graduate from high school, a bill that would allow low-income families to get state assistance for health-related improvements to their homes, and several bills related to military veterans and their families.

“Legislative Review” airs nightly at 6:30 and 11 p.m.

Categories: Education, Military, TVW
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Wednesday recap on ‘Legislative Review’

By | March 5, 2015 | 0 Comments

Here’s our 15-minute recap of Wednesday’s legislative activities on “Legislative Review.” It includes debate over a bill that would provide low-income students with breakfast after the bell, as well as a measure that would expand dual language programs in Washington schools. Plus, the Senate passes a bill to make changes to the state’s Presidential primary elections.

“Legislative Review” airs nightly at 6:30 and 11.

Categories: Education, TVW
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