Archive for Schools

Students press for access to more open ed resources to keep down cost of textbooks

By | February 2, 2016 | 0 Comments

On a day deemed “textbook day,” lawmakers considered four new bills that aim to keep down the cost of college textbooks at a hearing of the House Committee on Higher Education last week.

Some changes would be minor — changing course descriptions to include the cost of materials — while others use grants or tax incentives to encourage the use of more open educational resources on college campuses. Open educational resources are those that can downloaded by anyone and used for free — a PDF of a textbook or assignment, for example.

Supporters of the effort say the bills are necessary because students are paying around $825 a year for textbooks, according to the Washington Financial Aid Association. Some studies put that number even higher, at $1,200 a year.

Here’s a look at the bills and the testimony they received:

House Bill 2686 sponsored by Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington:

  • Encourages community and technical colleges to develop degrees or certificates that only use open educational materials. This effort would be funded by grants through the State Board for Community and Technical Colleges.
  • Expands and promote the Open Course Library at community colleges through grants from the State Board. Materials at the library are free or can be paired with low-cost textbooks under $30.
  • Requires community and technical colleges to revise their catalogs by fall of 2016 to show which courses use open educational materials.
  • Promotes access to open educational resources at four-year institutions through grants from the Student Achievement Council.

Melissa Gombosky with the Association of American Publishers said she was concerned about the focus of this bill as well as the others dealing with open educational resources. She said the effort would “shortchange” students by focusing on cost, not quality.

“We know that just because something is free it might not necessarily be better, and in some cases it certainly could be worse,” she said. “Our companies work hard to address the issue of quality and affordability. They compete against one and other in a very robust marketplace.”

She said textbook publishers already offer cheaper alternatives to traditional books – including digital and online options and student discount programs.

That point was later refuted by Anna Nepomuceno, the legislative liaison for Associated Students at UW Tacoma. She said that studies show a majority of professors either saw no difference in quality of the open resources or, in fact, preferred them.

House Bill 2680 sponsored by  Rep. Melanie Stambaugh, R-Puyallup:

  • Awards up to 100 grants per year to faculty members to create or adopt free educational tools for students at four-year universities. The grants fund the creation of Open Educational Resources so students won’t have to pay for their textbooks or other class materials.
Students wait to testify at the hearing.

Students wait to testify at the hearing.

Tacoma Community College student My’kyeke Cheatham testified in favor of the bill. He said he pays for his own tuition and materials, but dropped a course recently where cost of materials would have reached $400 to $500.

Nepomuceno said this was the bill her peers were most passionate about. She said community colleges already have open educational resources programs, and it’s time for four-year colleges to have one as well.

“We pay three times the tuition rates and right now there are more low-income students going to four-year institutions,” she said. (more…)

Prefiled bills: Charter schools, ‘Redskins’ mascot, abortion funding and fireworks ban

By | January 6, 2016 | 0 Comments

With the legislative session beginning Monday, more than 70 bills have been prefiled in the House and Senate on topics ranging from public health to mascots. Here are some highlights so far.

Keeping charter schools open
Two state Senators from Spokane, Democrat Andy Billig and Republican Michael Baumgartner, are co-sponsoring a bill that would keep charter schools open following a September ruling by the Washington Supreme Court that deemed charter schools unconstitutional. The bill, SB 6163, addresses the court’s concern that charter schools are not under the control of a locally elected school board. The bill creates charter school districts within existing local school districts, making the charter schools accountable to an elected board and eligible for state funding for basic education. However, charter schools would still have some independent authority in managing their budget, staff and curriculum. Currently there are eight charter schools in Washington.

Banning “redskins” as a public school mascot
Democratic Rep. David Sawyer of Tacoma is the primary sponsor for HB 2306, a bill that would prevent Washington public schools from using the term “redskin” in the names of any organizations or clubs, or as the school or athletic mascot. The bill says the word is a “disparaging racial reference to Native American” that has no place in public schools. Currently, the only school using the word is Wellpinit High School in Wellpinit, Wash., a small town in the center of the Spokane Indian Reservation.

Restricting public funding for abortions
On Dec. 7, Republicans filed House Bill 2294, an act restricting the use of public funds for elective abortions. Rep. David Taylor, R-Moxee, is the primary sponsor, along with 19 Republican co-sponsors. The bill prevents the state from providing “benefits or services” for abortions, unless medically necessary. It also bans the state from distributing grants or funds to “any organization that provides elective abortions or is affiliated … with any organization that provides elective abortions.”

Summer fireworks ban
If HB 2310 is passed, Washington residents will have to forget the fireworks for Fourth of July. In an effort to prevent fires this summer, the bill prohibits “the sale, purchase, use, and discharge of consumer fireworks” from June 1 to Sept. 30 this year, with the bill expiring on Oct. 1, 2016. The bill would also ban unnecessary burning outdoors without a permit from June 1 to Sept. 30. Democrat Rep. Kevin Van De Wege, a firefighter from Sequim, is the primary sponsor of the bill.

Accommodating pregnant women in the workplace
If passed, Senate Bill 6149 would require employers to provide “reasonable accommodation” to pregnant employees. For example, the employer must provide more frequent bathroom breaks, provide places for the employee to sit, allow time off to recover from childbirth and temporarily modify work schedules or job duties. The bill’s primary sponsor is Sen. Karen Keiser, D-Kent.

Increasing the smoking age
At the request of Attorney General Bob Ferguson, SB 6157 would increase the legal age from 18 to 21 for purchasing tobacco and vapor products, including e-pipes and e-cigarettes. Democrat Rep. Tina Orwall and 16 co-sponsors have signed on to the companion bill in the House. Ferguson attempted to raise the smoking age last year, but the bills failed to pass. Some cities, including New York City have increased their smoking age to 21, and recently Hawaii became the first state to raise the age to 21.

 

TVW releases new short documentary about school levies, teacher compensation

By | October 7, 2015 | 0 Comments

Over the past 30 years, school districts in Washington have become increasingly reliant on local levies to pay for costs that the Washington Supreme Court says should be covered by the state — including teacher salaries and basic education.

This 16-minute short documentary produced by TVW looks at how a school in the Highline school district is affected by an overreliance on local levies.

Categories: Education, Schools, tax, TVW

Dueling school levy reform bills emerge from Senate, hearing set for Thursday

By | April 15, 2015 | 0 Comments

Senate lawmakers unveiled dueling levy reform bills from both sides of the aisle Wednesday, 11 days before the Washington state legislature winds down its regular session.

The two levy concepts will get a hearing at 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

Under a court mandate from the McCleary decision to fully fund basic education from state coffers, lawmakers say they want to reduce the reliance of local levies from basic education and increase the burden of the cost on the state.

Many districts currently use their local levy money to pay for things that would be considered basic education, such as teacher salaries. Some districts also have a harder time getting levies approved by voters.

However, Democrats and Republicans have differing approaches for how to boost state funding for basic education.

Senate Democrats Wednesday morning rolled out their plan, which includes a levy reform bill dropped by Sen. Jim Hargrove, D-Hoquiam, that would fund teacher salaries starting in 2018, and then lower the local levy revenue dollar per dollar. The bill sets the maximum levy authority for local districts at $1 per $1,000 of assessed value, beginning in 2023.

The increased state spending would be paid through a 7 percent capital gains tax that would apply to gains higher than $250,000 for single taxpayer (or $500,000 per couple). It would not apply to houses. Sen. Kevin Ranker, D-Orcas Island, introduced that bill and said the proposal would raise $1.2 billion in the next biennium and would apply to about 7,500 people.

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

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

At the Democrats’ press conference. Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Kitsap County, also discussed her bill that phases in an increase in education funding, including a six-year plan for teacher compensation and year-by-year roll out of class size reductions in all grades. She said that gets to the full McCleary plan.

Wednesday afternoon Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, introduced a competing plan, which also would replace local levy money being used for compensation with state money, while reducing the local levy amounts dollar for dollar. His plan caps school levies at $1.25 per $1,000 of assessed value.

However, his bill would be funded through an increase of about $1.50 per $1,000 in the statewide levy for schools, which currently is set at $1.98 per $1,000 of assessed value. However, Dammeier says the change would be revenue neutral, because there would be a corresponding reduction in local levies.

So, while individual taxpayers may see a change in their tax bills, the burden would be shifted to the state common schools levy rather than the local district levy.

His bill also calls for a six-year phase in of a change in teacher pay, making it more uniform across regions of the state. The bill would repeal the teacher COLA that was approved in Initiative 732, and the state would set a statewide salary schedule with adjustments for level of education and for regional variables in costs of living. The phase-in period would allow teachers at a lower salary to catch up with more highly compensated teachers in the same region, and no teacher would see a reduction in pay, he said.

Dammeier said that his plan evens out teacher pay across regions of the state as well as district levy levels, which he says has been an issue of fairness over the the past 30 years.

The solution has “got to be fair, it’s got be equitable and it’s got to be sustainable,” he said.

But Ranker said while Dammeier’s plan will lower taxes in some districts, most districts throughout the state could see an increase in property taxes. He said that’s why he made his capital gains proposal —which would affect 7,500 people — instead.

“We looked different scenarios, and this would raise taxes for many people. That’s why we said we’re going to look at another funding source,” Ranker said.

Hargrove and Dammeier’s bills are scheduled for a hearing at the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Thursday.

TVW recorded both press conferences. They will be posted in the archives.

GOP lawmakers say voters could change minds on class size initiative

By | April 7, 2015 | 0 Comments

Despite a Tuesday poll showing continued public support of a voter-backed initiative to lower class sizes from kindergarten through high school, Republican lawmakers say that voters could be convinced to back a plan that limits class size reduction to the youngest students.

Initiative 1351 lowers class sizes in grades kindergarten through third grade to 17 students per class, and in grades 4 through 12 to 25 students per class. 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.

Both chambers have proposed paying only for class size reductions in grades K-3. The Democrat-controlled House proposed making the change by gathering two-thirds approval from lawmakers to override the initiative.

In the other chamber, the Republican-majority Senate passed a bill Monday 27-23 that would ask voters to change the initiative so class size decreases are limited to grades K-3.

Either approach would need to pass both chambers before being enacted.

education

Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, says he believes that after learning more about the struggles to pay for the measure, voters would back the change to the initiative, which passed in November 51 percent to 49 percent.

“It won by a whisper. I think when the public sees the facts about 1351 and we are making smart investments in the area where we get the best return on our investment,” Schoesler said. “Given the best parts of 1351, I suspect the voters will make the right decision.”

Schoesler was joined by other Republican lawmakers at a press conference on Tuesday that covered a variety of topics.

Their comments came as The Elway Poll released a survey showing that 53 percent of respondents said the legislature should “find a way to reduce class size in all grades.” The poll found less support — 36 percent — for limiting the class size changes to K‐3.

The Elway Poll also showed that voters were split 48 percent in favor of and 43 percent against a theoretical tax increase to pay for the class size change. The poll’s margin of error is 4.5 percent.

But Rep. J.T. Wilcox, R-Yelm, said that another factor that could convince voters to change their minds is that plans to fund only K-3 are coming from both Democrats and Republicans.

“I think you will see most legislators on the record on the side [of] ‘1351 is unworkable,’ and that wasn’t part of the last election,” Wilcox said.

Several bills this session were introduced in response to Initiative 1351, including several bills that would add fiscal information on initiatives on ballots. (more…)

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Lawmakers work to reduce youth use of vapor products

By | March 17, 2015 | 0 Comments

As Washington’s e-cigarette and vapor industry grows, state lawmakers are working to reduce youth use of a product that’s become more popular among teens than cigarettes.

15249922438_b110c69454_zOne measure, requested by Gov. Jay Inslee, regulates the state’s vapor market — from vaping products to the stores they are sold in. Another bill focuses on packaging and advertising to make the products less appealing to kids.

Dozens showed up to testify Monday before a House committee on both measures.

House Bill 1645 would create licenses for vapor stores, prohibit sales to minors and impose a 95 percent tax on products. Inslee says the new tax will generate $18 million a year and make vapor products harder for kids to afford.

Vape users and store owners told committee members a tax that nearly doubles the price would make it harder to quit smoking. “Please don’t balance the budget on the backs of people trying to quit smoking,” Washington Vape Association’s Stuart Halsan told lawmakers.

E-cigarettes and vape pens heat liquid until it forms a vapor that imitates smoke. Vaping liquid, called “juice” or “joose,” comes in a range of flavors and nicotine contents, including nicotine-free. Supporters say it’s an effective smoking cessation method.

Some health officials disagree. Dr. Susan Turner of Kitsap Public Health District told lawmakers vapor products are not safe and, according to a nationwide survey, can compel youth users to start smoking cigarettes. “Not only is it not a great cessation device, it may also be an initiation device,” she said.

Sen. Bruce Dammeier said safety should come before taxation. He’s sponsoring a bill to require child-proof packaging on all products. “This has got to be protecting children first,” the Puyallup Republican said of Inslee’s bill earlier this year. “There can be a discussion of taxation later.”

Senate Bill 5477 requires child-proof packaging and warning labels for all vapor products and ask school districts to ban use on school grounds. Right now, vaping packaging and advertising isn’t regulated by the federal government. Dammeier’s bill would set up statewide rules.

Washington Poison Center reports 182 calls in 2014 related to vaping fluid – most were for children younger than 3. Health officials say children are attracted to the colorful packaging and fruity flavors.

Vapor products are more popular than tobacco in Washington schools, according to a recent Healthy Youth survey. While 8 percent of high school sophomores smoke cigarettes, 18 percent say they use e-cigarettes.

No action was taken on either bill during Monday’s hearing.

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Inslee makes case for capital gains tax, carbon charges in 2015 State of State

By | January 13, 2015 | 0 Comments

Gov. Jay Inslee addresses the 2015 Washington State Legislature during the State of the State address.

Gov. Jay Inslee pledged to work on a transportation package, increased funding for pre-kindergarten and a minimum wage increase in his 2015 State of the State address, framing his policy decisions as an investment in Washington’s residents.

“One path leads to an economy that works for all Washingtonians, supports thriving communities and preserves a healthy environment. The other path leads to a slow erosion of our shared prosperity, a widening gap of inequality and a deterioration of our clean air and water,” he said.

“[T]here are no better people to invest in than Washingtonians, there is no better place to invest in than Washington and there is no better time to invest than 2015,” he said.

He also spoke on his plans for education, the environment and raising taxes through his proposed capital gains tax. His remarks on the latter two issues drew a more enthusiastic response from Legislative Democrats than from Republicans, many of whom withheld applause during those sections of the speech.

Republicans also issued a perspective on this year’s session  with a statement from Rep. Norma Smith (R-Clinton) and a press availability from several Republicans from the House and Senate sides of the Legislature.

Members of the 2015 Washington State Legislature, and members of the State Supreme Court, listen to Gov. Jay Inslee deliver the annual State of the State address.

Transportation

On transportation, Inslee said that his plan would be multimodal and include reforms and funding for “a transportation system that truly works as a system,” he said.

(more…)

2014 Roundup: What bills passed, what didn’t pass during session

By | March 14, 2014 | 0 Comments

The Washington State Legislature adjourned shortly before midnight on Thursday, the final day of the regular 2014 session. It’s the first time since 2009 that lawmakers finished their work without going into an overtime special session.

Here’s an overview of what lawmakers accomplished — and didn’t accomplish — during the session.

PASSED:

Supplemental budget: Both chambers agreed on a supplemental operating budget that spends about $155 million, including $58 for K-12 books and supplies. It also adds additional money to the mental health system, early learning and prisons. It does not include any new taxes or tax breaks, nor does it include teacher pay raises.

Dream Act/Real Hope Act: The Dream Act allows undocumented immigrants to apply for state need grants to help pay for college. The House passed its version of the Dream Act on opening day. The Senate renamed it the Real Hope Act and added $5 million to the state need grant. It was signed into law by Gov. Jay Inslee in February.

Homeless fees: As part of a last-minute deal, lawmakers agreed to extend until 2019 a $40 document recording fee that people pay during real estate transaction, such as buying or refinancing a house. The fee supports homeless shelters, affordable housing and other services and was scheduled to sunset unless the Legislature took action.

24 credit diploma: Starting with the class of 2019, high school students will have to earn 24 credits for a diploma. The current minimum is 20 credits, although some school districts require more than the minimum. The bill will also provide more opportunities for students to take career and technical classes that meet graduation requirements.

Tanning beds ban: Teenagers under the age of 18 would no longer be allowed to use tanning beds in Washington. Senate Bill 6065 bans minors from using tanning beds, unless they have a written prescription for UV radiation treatment from a doctor. Tanning salons would be fined $250 for violations.

Domestic violence: Washington residents under domestic violence restraining orders will soon be barred from owning guns. The bill says that someone who is under a protection, no-contact, or restraining order related to domestic violence must surrender his or her guns to law enforcement.

Drones: The Legislature approved a bill that puts limits government agencies that use drones, or remote-controlled monitoring devices, for surveillance. An agency may only use a drone after getting a warrant or under several exceptions, such as a fire or other emergency.

Religious holidays: State employees will be allowed to take two unpaid days off a year for religious reasons, and public school children will be excused for two days under a bill approved by the Legislature.

Military in-state tuition: Veterans and active duty military members will soon qualify for in-state tuition at Washington colleges and universities without having to first establish residency. Senate Bill 5318 waives the one-year waiting period for veterans, military members and their families.

Short-barreled rifles: Washington gun owners will soon be allowed to own a short-barreled rifle under a bill approved by the Legislature. It is currently a felony to own a gun with a rifle with a barrel shorter than 16 inches, or to have a modified gun that is shorter than 26 inches overall. (more…)

UW Huskies lobby for Dream Act and tuition issues

By | February 6, 2014 | 0 Comments

About 120 students from the University of Washington took a day off from school to lobby at the Capitol Thursday. The Huskies pushed the Dream Act and a bill preventing differential tuition.

The students expressed their support of extending financial aid to undocumented immigrant students and thanked legislators for passing the Dream Act, known in the Senate as the Real Hope Act.

Also, the students pushed House Bill 1043, which prohibits state universities from allowing differential tuition, which is a tuition rate based on a student’s major. Amber Amim, a student majoring in informatics and applied math at UW, raised concerns that math and science students would have to pay more if it were allowed.

The bill to prohibit differential tuition passed in the House at the start of the session.

But the value of lobby day goes beyond these particular issues, said Jillian Celich, a senior at UW and ASUW employee.

“It’s important for students to tell their personal stories to lawmakers. There needs to be a stronger voice for higher education,” Celich said.

Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, spoke at the Capitol steps and encouraged the crowd of student lobbyists to stay involved with the legislative process after lobby day.

His final words: “Think bigger than just today.”

Categories: Education, Olympia, Rally, Schools, TVW

Legislation aims to help homeless students by housing their families closer to schools

By | February 4, 2014 | 0 Comments

As many families struggle to find affordable housing and stable employment, the number of homeless children in Washington state public schools is increasing.

In the 2011-2011 school year, more than 27,000 students were reported as homeless, a 5 percent increase from the previous year and a nearly 50 percent increase from 2008, according to the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

The statistics are stark, and not unusual. The Department of Education estimates more than 1.1 million students in the U.S. in grades K-12 were homeless in the 2011-12 school year.

Lawmakers discussed potential solutions to help families and schools address the needs of homeless students during a Senate Financial Institutions, Housing and Insurance Committee hearing Tuesday.

Advocates and legislative leaders pushed two related bills, Senate Bill 6365 and Senate Bill 6338, which would get low-income families in houses closer to their schools. The first bill connects families with stable housing and the other gives priority to housing projects that involve certain partnerships that support children of low-income families.

Those partnerships are critical to “breaking the cycle of poverty” said Michael Power, the manager of educational programs with Tacoma Housing Authority (THA).  He used the McCarver Elementary Special Housing Project in Tacoma as the model example of a successful joint effort, which involves the THA, the elementary school, students and parents.

Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said that the law would not only help homeless students and families, but also minimize transportation costs for schools.

The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act is a federal law that requires schools to provide free transportation to students. For schools particularly in rural areas, these expenses can be high. Supporters say the bill would reduce those costs because students would live closer to their schools.

Homeless advocates want to see the bill extended to other housing nonprofits, such as tribal housing. But they agreed it is a step forward in providing families in need with stable housing, which they say is critical to student success.

Research shows that the academic achievement of homeless students declines across all grades and subject material. Liz Allen, a previous teacher and advocate with the UW School of Law, reported that homeless children are nine times more likely to repeat a grade and four times more likely to drop out of school.”It’s hard to do homework with no home,” said Allen.