OLYMPIA, Wash. - The state Senate approved an education reform bill Tuesday that would put teachers who score lowest on performance evaluations the first in line for layoffs.
Both the House and Senate budget proposals for the coming biennium include drastic cuts to K-12 education that would require teacher layoffs across the state.
Under current statute, newly hired teachers are the first to be cut, but the Senate bill requires that performance, not seniority, determine which teachers are laid off when staff reductions are needed.
"Why in the world would you ever lay off a second-year teacher of the year in lieu of maybe an eighth- or ninth-year teacher who's on probation?" asked Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, who proposed the striking amendment version of the bill that passed the Senate.
Tom said the bill would keep high-performing young teachers in disadvantaged schools that need them, instead of laying them off in hard budget years and sending them back to careers that do a better job of rewarding excellence.
The bill was amended to include principals in the performance-based layoff process.
Opponents to the bill argued vehemently that rather than changing the system by which teachers are laid off, lawmakers should be looking at how to avoid layoffs entirely.
"This bill will do nothing to improve student learning," said Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell. "There must be an effective teacher in every classroom. ... It takes a teacher who has the tools that they need to teach."
For McAuliffe and many other opponents, those tools include more manageable class sizes, more planning time for teachers and greater support services for students.
Both the Senate and House budget proposals cut funding for a class-size enhancement initiative.
Senate majority leader Sen. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, spoke against the bill, saying that if lawmakers really want to see good schools, they need to step up to the challenge of providing funding for them.
Washington's constitution requires the state to fund K-12 education as its "paramount duty," but it's up to the Legislature to determine how that looks in statute.
Current performance evaluations rate teachers as "satisfactory" or "unsatisfactory," and a four-tier evaluation process is being tested in a pilot program in several school districts across the state.
The bill includes a host of other education reforms, including the implementation of the national "common core" standards which passed the Legislature last year. The common core standards would be adopted in place of the current Essential Academic Learning Requirements.
If the bill passes, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction would be required to conduct a fairness and bias review of the standards before implementing them.
The bill also calls for OSPI to provide dropout-prevention assistance for schools, requires elementary schools to use the state's kindergarten readiness assessment process, and allows school districts to redefine what counts as a high school credit to reflect students' demonstrated capacity instead of the current "seat-time" definition.
The measure now returns to the House for approval of amendments.