WA Senate kills attempt to keep No Child Left Behind Act waiver

Staff writerFebruary 18, 2014 

Legislation that would have helped Washington state keep its waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act failed on the floor of the state Senate Tuesday, potentially jeopardizing the use of $44 million in federal education funds.

The Senate voted down a bill that would have required the use of statewide tests — not just local or district-wide tests — in teacher and principal evaluations, a step the federal government has said is necessary for Washington to remain exempt from certain onerous provisions of the federal law.

The legislation failed 19-28, with minority Democrats joining with seven members of the Republican-dominated Senate majority coalition to vote no.

A legislative fix to address the waiver issue now looks unlikely to happen this session, as Tuesday marked the deadline for bills to advance from their house of origin, or else be considered dead.

Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, said Tuesday’s vote puts Washington “at great risk” of losing its No Child Left Behind waiver.

“Today, by a vote on this floor, we chose to make $40 million be used in the most restrictive way possible — to take it out of our schools,” said Dammeier, who is one of Senate Republicans’ leaders on education issues.

In the House, measures to address the waiver issue didn’t make it out of the Education Committee.

State law already requires that teacher evaluations incorporate student test scores, also known as student growth data. But school districts in Washington can choose which tests they will use.

Because of that issue, the U.S. Department of Education told state officials in August that Washington is at “high-risk status” of losing its waiver for the coming 2014-15 school year.

Losing the waiver would mean school districts throughout the state would have to redirect an estimated $38 to $44 million in federal education funding toward private tutoring efforts, rather than spending the money on district programs for poor and disadvantaged students.

It also would mean nearly every school in the state would be labeled as failing, and school administrators would have to send letters home to parents notifying them of their schools' failing status.

Sen. Steve Litzow, a Mercer Island Republican who chairs the Senate committee on education, attributed the failed vote to pressure on Democrats from the state teachers union. The Washington Education Association has opposed changing the state’s new teacher and principal evaluation system, which is being used for the first time this year.

But some Democratic education leaders questioned why members of the Senate majority caucus would bring the bill up for a vote when it didn’t have enough support to pass.

One theory: “The majority coalition brought it to the floor so they could bash the unions,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island.

All but one member of the Democratic Senate minority voted against changing which tests must be used in teacher evaluations — including Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, who sponsored almost identical legislation earlier this year.

McAuliffe said she had wanted to spark conversation about the waiver issue earlier this session, but ultimately she doesn’t think now is the time to change the state’s teacher and principal evaluation system.

“We have one of the best evaluation programs in the nation, and we do not want to break it,” McAuliffe said Tuesday.

McAuliffe said the state should seek other ways of getting its No Child Left Behind waiver extended, including working with Washington’s members of Congress to try and convince the U.S. Department of Education to give Washington more time.

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