Education reform bills are squashed
February 24, 2009
By Chantelle Lusebrink
Hopes for education reform in the state were partially dashed Feb. 18 when both legislative bodies rejected further discussion on House Bill 1410 and Senate Bill 5444, two bills Issaquah School Board members and the PTSA fully endorsed.
“In terms of what is coming out of the Legislature, the education reform proposals are still alive,” said Rep. Glenn Anderson. “The challenge we have is coming to the best of our abilities to a broad agreement.
“The devil is always in the details,” he said.
The two bills were the result of several years of studies, ideas and recommendations from two groups, the Joint Task Force on Basic Education Finance, and its predecessor, the Washington Learns Steering Committee.
Final recommendations from each were included in the two pieces of legislation local representatives, like Senators Rodney Tom and Fred Jarrett, and Representatives Anderson, Ross Hunter and Jay Rodne, created and/or endorsed.
“I don’t believe it was a wasted effort,” said Connie Fletcher, an Issaquah School Board member and its legislative representative. “There was a lot of good research that came from that group and I have to believe it will be put to good use.”
Despite years of work, many groups, like the Washington Education Association and its members, had several problems with the bills, specifically those portions that changed teacher’s salary schedule and additional reporting and oversight reporting without identified funding sources.
“The biggest challenge has been the Washington Education Association and its membership, and how it hasn’t been entirely consistent in this process,” Anderson said, adding, he realizes change to the profession can be difficult. “In the next few weeks, we are really going to have to have heart-to-heart conversations, because half the teachers in the state retire within the next 10 years, and our obligation is to setup a pipeline and a framework to be successful for the next generation.”
Locally, Neva Luke, president of the Issaquah Education Association, expressed her memberships’ concerns to school board members before they endorsed the two bills Feb. 5.
Sen. Eric Oemig, a Democrat from the 45th Legislative District, and Rep. Pat Sullivan, a Democrat from the 47th Legislative District, have sponsored new legislation, Senate Bill 6048 and House Bill 2261, respectively.
The two were drafted as intent-only bills, meaning the bills only declare the Legislature’s intent to revise the definition of basic education and its funding system. The two bills do not identify how that will be done.
Instead, the two representatives are meeting with education, parent and government stakeholders to work through each section of House Bill 1410 and Senate Bill 5444 to find consensus and compromise for the language of the two new bills.
As the process gets started, Anderson said, he still sees this as the year to pass reform.
“We get paid to make the tough decisions people can’t or won’t make, and if we can’t or won’t make them for the next generation, then who is?” he asked.
Fletcher said representatives from local groups, like the PTSA, teachers’ association, unions and school board, have gathered to discuss common ground and find compromise to include in the new bills then report back to state legislators.
“We found common ground,” she said. “The first section is the redefinition of basic education and includes the graduation requirements. That was common ground for everyone.”
The group also agreed on the fourth section of the bill, which includes what happens to the levy system and other sources of funding.
However, there were strong disputes over the second and third sections of the bill, which outlined moving teachers from a seniority-based to a performance-based compensation system and how much additional accountability reporting is necessary.
Help from residents is needed to help ensure reform is passed this year, Fletcher said.
“Please contact your legislators and urge them to pass new state policy this session that redefines basic education and establishes a funding formula that is adequate and equitable,” she said.
Contact your legislator
Go to www.leg.wa.gov/legislature then click on “Find Your Legislator” on the left hand navigation bar, then submit your address. A list of your legislators, and their contact information, will come up.