Unless political leadership in Olympia takes charge, school reform could end with a whimper. Two bills that carried the tenets of Gov. Chris Gregoire’s Washington Learns initiative and the Legislature’s Basic Education Task Force were suffocated in committees.
What’s emerged in the Senate is a “We Love Education” bumper sticker.
The hollowed-out bill states an intent to really, really do something about this issue in the next biennium. The following have been removed: Core 24 (the state board of education’s wish to increase the number of required graduation credits from 19 to 24), all-day kindergarten, preschool for low-income children, an increase in transportation dollars, school accountability and changes in teacher certification, assessments and pay.
The Washington Education Association drew an unrealistic line in the sand. Produce an immediate $1 billion to $2 billion and it would possibly consider teacher-related reforms. No such money exists, which is why changes were to be phased in over six years, starting in 2011. That was a realistic nod to the state’s daunting budget challenges. Nonetheless, the originals bills died.
However, hope has re-emerged in the House, which on Thursday night passed a bill that adds back many of the needed reforms, despite WEA opposition.
Now the two chambers will have to reconcile matters and send a single bill to the governor. The House version moves the ball down the field. The Senate version punts.
It’s important to remember how this all got started. The state has been financing basic education with a 30-year-old formula that doesn’t recognize demographic shifts, technological changes and the increasing competitiveness of other nations. Credible lawsuits charge that the state is not meeting its paramount duty under the state constitution, which is to provide for basic education.
If the state puts this off for two more years, those legal challenges remain. The next court date is Aug. 31. Legal challenges aside, the state risks being left on the sidelines as other states scoop up federal stimulus money tied to innovative education reforms.
As the House showed with its strong bipartisan vote, it is not too late to rally. A broad coalition that includes the Washington Roundtable, the Parent Teachers Association, the League of Education Voters and school district boards cheered that result and is working hard to persuade others that the status quo is unacceptable.
As Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, said: “If not now, then when?”
Now it’s up to legislative leaders to bring the promise of reform across the goal line.