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Thursday, February 27, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Senate has deal that could break session deadlock

Involves I-1351, controversial biology test

OLYMPIA — Senate Democrats and Republicans announced they have an agreement that will allow the Legislature to finish work and adjourn for the year by the end of the week.

The agreement involves a delay on a controversial biology assessment test high school students are required to pass to receive their diplomas, and a four-year delay on Initiative 1351, the class-size reduction initiative.

Press releases from the two caucuses shortly before 1 p.m. confirmed rumors that had been floated around the Capitol all morning. It said the two groups agreed to a two-year suspension of the state’s end-of-course biology graduation requirements. That sets the stage for the Senate to address the delay in Initiative 1351 as passed by the House of Representatives.

The Senate will convene Thursday afternoon, July 9 with the expectation of acting on these and any other bills necessary to complete its work.

A source familiar with discussions said the delay in the biology assessment test will be retroactive, allowing seniors who had failed the test as sophomores and taken a remedial course but still failed a makeup to graduate and enroll in college if the lack of a diploma has been holding them back. Next year’s seniors will also be allowed to graduate under those conditions.

Parts of I-1351, which requires the state to begin lowering the number of students in public schools from kindergarten through high school, would be deferred for four years. The state would move forward on smaller classes for kindergarten through third grade, but the other grades would wait. The state’s 2015-17 operating budget, which passed at the end of June to avoid a partial state government shutdown, assumes such a delay, but the bill that spelled out the policy failed in the Senate last Wednesday morning after passing the House the previous day.

Senate Democrats who support faster implementation of I-1351 had balked at the four-year delay as hurting students in the upper grades, and asked for a vote on a House bill that had changes to the high school assessment tests as a counterbalance. Senate Republicans said approving a delay to the initiative was part of the overall budget agreement and would only agree to some temporary relief on the tests. Discussions went through the night, and culminated with the failed vote to delay the initiative at about 6 a.m.

Without that policy bill passing, the state’s operating budget would eventually be $2 billion out of balance.

The House will have to vote on the biology assessment test bill, which is being filed today in the Senate. But the House has been the prime mover in giving students relief from the tests, and has passed its legislation on the issue by large margins three times already. It must also pass bills connected to the transportation projects that will be supported by a new gas tax that begins on Aug. 1.

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