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Spin Control

Will Lege swap 1351 changes for assessment tests?

OLYMPIA -- A new roadblock may develop in the Legislature's plans to suspend parts of Initiative 1351, which would require smaller class sizes throughout the state's K-12 school system.It may involve passing a bill that eases rules that require students to pass a test on biology to graduate from high school, which critics say is keeping hundreds of good students from getting their diplomas. 

Or maybe not.

The Legislature came up with the money to reduce sizes in kindergarten through Grade 3 in the 2015-17 operating budget that passed Monday, but planned to suspend the requirements for the higher grades in a separate bill.

That bill, however, needs a two-thirds majority because it changes the initiative. Senate Republicans need some Democratic votes to pass it. But overnight, their need grew by two because two GOP members are absent today. But Senate Democrats have many members who come from districts that passed I-1351 by strong margins, and were planning to vote no.

A suggestion being floated is to resurrect legislation to ease the assessment test rules that require high school students to pass a science test in biology in order to graduate. Throughout the session, critics of that system have pushed for a bill to do that, arguing it was keeping hundreds of good students from graduating and continuing on to college because they did poorly on the test. Earlier this month House Democrats even brought students to a press conference who had been good grade point averages but weren't graduating because they'd failed the test, sometimes more than once.

During Monday's budget debate, Sen. Maralyn Chase, D-Seattle, introduced an amendment that would let those students get their diploma. It was voted down as budget writers worked to keep anything off that bill that didn't have the approval of the leaders of both chambers. But some Republicans said it was an issue that would be revisited later -- although later almost certainly meant 2016, which isn't any help to this year's non-graduating seniors.

Enough Senate Democrats could be convinced to vote for the changes to I-1351 in exchange for passing the changes to the assessment test requirements. As one source explained, I-1351 was designed as a positive for students. If the Legislature is going to cut back there, which is a negative for kids, it should do something positive somewhere else that will help students. If that happens, there might be enough votes to give the 1351 changes the super-majority it needs to pass.

UPDATE: That won't fly with Senate Republicans, Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, said. The new operating budget has money to help students who failed any of the assessment tests take summer school classes that will help them pass and get their diplomas. The Legislature has agreed to revisit the issue next year, but passing the changes to I-1351 was part of the budget compromise to which all legislative leaders accepted late last week. It passed the House Monday with 72 yes votes, he said.

Senators are talking it out. Stay tuned.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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