The Washington state Senate passed a series of education reform bills this week, including a measure that assigns letter grades to schools, a bill repealing unfunded mandates and another that targets low-performing schools. The bills come as the Legislature approaches the midpoint of a session dominated by the state Supreme Court’s decision in McCleary, which demands lawmakers fully fund basic education.
On Thursday, the Senate debated a bill that would provide funding and an intervention plan for the state’s 10 lowest performing schools. It would allow the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to take control of schools that fail to improve after a period of three years. If intervention efforts continue to fail, the school could eventually be closed.
“We know what these schools are. We know where they are. We need to make an intervention into these schools,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Steve Litzow (R– Mercer Island). “If they cannot succeed after three years in turning around that school, then OSPI has the option to go in and take these schools over and work with them for another three years.”
Spokane Democrat Sen. Andy Billig said he has seen positive results for such programs in his own district.
“I’ve seen this process work in my own community and I am optimistic that it will help other schools and students,” he said.
Several opponents said they are concerned about the loss of local control.
“The ability of somebody in Olympia to hire and fire teachers based on their perspective from Olympia – that is very concerning to me. I think it’s critical that we keep that hiring and firing ability in our local districts,” said Sen. Kevin Ranker (D – Orcas Island).
Sen. Christine Rolfes (D – Poulsbo) said the legislation is just a small step towards reform, and cautioned fellow lawmakers about being too excited about the bill.
“It is a pilot project masquerading as school reform,” Rolfes said. “It will help ten schools. There are hundreds that could qualify for this kind of assistance.”
The bill passed 30-19.
The Senate discussed another education bill Thursday that would do away with a number of unfunded education laws that supporters say have been weighing down the budget.