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Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - Page updated at 09:00 a.m.

Lawmakers still have ‘a lot of work to do’ on education

By Brian M. Rosenthal
Seattle Times Olympia bureau

OLYMPIA — If lawmakers got a letter grade for progress on the issue of education this session — as some of them want schools to get — they’d give themselves an “incomplete.”

The regular session ended Sunday with only a handful of major education-policy bills sent to Gov. Jay Inslee, one on additional supports for struggling schools, another on a new way to push more students into advanced classes and one on required reporting of seclusion and restraint of special-education students.

Those are compromise bills that changed significantly during the session.

For example, Senate Bill 5329 — perhaps the biggest of the passed bills — started as a proposal to allow the state to take over schools that perform the lowest on state tests. The version sent to Inslee would mostly give the state a larger role in school-turnaround efforts, if funding is available.

The Democrat-controlled House and the Republican-run Senate weren’t able to compromise, however, on proposals to grade schools, overhaul dropout-prevention programs, intervene if a third-grader fails the state reading test, increase cultural competency of teachers or give principals more say in personnel decisions.

And while both sides have agreed to put hundreds of millions of new dollars into basic school operations in response to a state Supreme Court order, negotiators haven’t settled on exactly how much money, where to put it or where to get it from.

“We’ve still got a lot of work to do,” said state Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, who sits on a Senate education committee .

The governor’s office and legislative leaders in both chambers and both parties said education would be a focus of the coming special session.

Senate education committee Chairman Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, said Republicans plan to argue in the special session that new dollars must be tied to new accountability measures such as the A to F grades for schools, the third-grade reading intervention and the increased principals’ role in hiring and firing.

Democrats called those proposals counterproductive. They’re pushing their own ideas, including ways to improve teacher-training programs and emphasize dropout prevention.

On Saturday, an estimated 1,000 school employees associated with the state teachers union came to the Capitol to boost the Democratic ideas and criticize the Republican ones.

Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said the Democratic governor is working with both sides to get more money and some more targeted accountability.

The governor’s office released a paper earlier this month that indicated Inslee could support a version of most of the education-policy proposals on the table.

But the paper said the governor “philosophically disagrees” with a GOP idea to give principals the right to veto teachers assigned to their building.

Speaking to the union members Saturday, Inslee said the idea would essentially end due process for teachers.

After the union rally, House Education Committee Chairwoman Sharon Tomiko Santos said the Legislature made progress this session.

She praised Senate Bill 5329 in particular for improving from the original, which was one of this year’s most controversial proposals.

Instead of allowing the state to take over low-performing schools, the compromise makes those schools develop a turnaround plan and gives them three years to try to do it on their own — with additional state funding. If the school doesn’t improve, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction can develop a new plan for it.

“The bill as introduced was to come in with a wrecking ball,” said Santos, D-Seattle. “And the bill now says the foundation is OK but we need to install some reinforcing walls.”

Brian M. Rosenthal: 360-236-8267 or On Twitter @brianmrosenthal

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