Important Education Bills Signed

I sent out the following press release today on the signing of several key education bills. We mostly stayed focused on the budget, but stayed the course on ed reform, both financial and structural. THese bills don’t do all that I want, but are a step in the right direction.

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AUBURN – Rep. Ross Hunter (D-Medina) joined Governor Gregoire and dozens of education advocates at Auburn High School this afternoon to celebrate the signing of more than a dozen education bills passed by the Legislature this session.

“Despite the enormous focus on our state’s budget challenges, we haven’t let that distract us from our ongoing work to reform and improve our schools,” says Hunter who has been extensively involved in education finance and reform efforts. “I can’t think of any other issue we’ve made this much progress on in the past two years.”

Of the numerous bills signed today, four were passed in the final hours of the regular 2010 legislative session when breakthrough compromises were negotiated between the House and Senate.

HB 2776 sets in motion five recommendations from the Quality Education Council, the group tasked with implementing the reforms outlined in the education funding reform bill Hunter played a key role in passing last year. The bill:

  • Establishes a new prototypical school funding model that will simplify the budgeting process and increase transparency.
  • Requires a phase-in of smaller classes of 17 students in kindergarten through 3rd grade by the 2015-16 school year.
  • Requires increased funding for maintenance and operation costs, costs the state currently only provides about half the funding for.
  • Implements a new pupil transportation funding method.
  • Accelerates the workgroups focused on local levy and teacher compensation issues.

“The recent King County court ruling confirms we haven’t been meeting our constitutional obligation to fund our education system,” says Hunter. “But ultimately, it isn’t just about more money but the best use of our money. We made some big promises with last year’s reform bill and these next steps prove we’re serious about making sure every one of our children gets the best education possible. There’s still much more to do but we’re moving in the right direction.”

Reform was also the intent of SB 6696, a bill designed to make Washington more competitive in the Obama Administration’s competitive education grant program known as Race to the Top (RTTT). SB 6696 outlines reforms related to accountability, educator evaluation and educator preparation. Major provisions include a new accountability system to turn around low-performing schools, an updated evaluation system for teachers based on student achievement, and expanded teacher preparation opportunities to help more people who want to become teachers find quality prep programs.

Hunter also pointed out the significance of the Governor’s approval of HB 2731 which expands quality pre-school across the state and secures early learning as a new state entitlement program.

“When we crafted last year’s education reform bill it was important to us that we find a way to get more children into quality early learning programs,” says Hunter. “The research is undisputable – there isn’t any other investment more worthwhile than quality early learning programs. Children who enter kindergarten ready to learn are far more successful in school and life, saving us millions in remediation, welfare and criminal justice costs.”

Also approved was a critical school levy bill, HB 2893, aimed at boosting school districts’ ability to collect local, voter-approved funding. Most districts can currently use levies for no more than 24 percent of their budgets. Last year the Legislature suspended funding for I-728 and I-732, voter-approved initiatives for class size reduction and teacher cost-of-living increases. The reduced funding meant school districts were collecting less levy money. This legislation allows school districts to calculate their levies as though that funding were still in place, temporarily offsets cuts made by the state last year by allowing a temporary four percent raise in the levy lid, and increases levy equalization funding for property-poor districts.

“This allows school districts to collect the full amount of money their voters approved, instead of allowing it to be reduced by arcane funding formulas from Olympia,” says Hunter. “We allow school districts to cash a check their voters have already approved.”

Other bills signed by the Governor today include HB 2621 which expands resources and assistance for creating more STEM schools (science, technology, engineering and math), SB 6403 to establish collaborative new models of reducing dropout rates and re-engaging dropouts, and HB 2801 to update and strengthen anti-harassment and bullying policies in schools.

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Contact: Rep. Ross Hunter – (360) 786-7936 or hunter.ross@leg.wa.gov

Media staff: Jaime Smith – (360) 786-7631 or smith.jaime@leg.wa.gov

About the Author

Ross
I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.