Politics & Government

Education reform bill wins Senate approval

The state Senate approved an education reform measure Thursday meant to bolster the state’s application for federal dollars through the Race to the Top competition.

On a 41-5 vote, the Senate passed a bill that looks to make low-performing schools more accountable and would create a new teacher and principal evaluation system. The measure now heads to the House.

“Our students in the state of Washington deserve this,” said Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, the sponsor of the measure. “It’s time to give our schools the tools they need to teach every child, whatever their gifts or challenges may be.”

Senate Bill 6696 would extend the probationary period of teachers from two years to three; approve the new school accountability plan from the State Board of Education; and establish the first state evaluation criteria for principals, who have been evaluated under general administrative guidelines. It also would add alternative new ways to become a teacher and create a plan to pay teachers more for innovation, improving achievement gaps or developing a program that focuses on science and technology.

Two amendments proposed by Sen. Curtis King, R-Yakima, were rejected. One proposed that the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction develop a new model for teacher evaluation for the state’s 295 districts. The other would have required student testing data to be used as part of performance evaluations for teachers and principals.

King voted for the measure, though he said that he felt the bill needs to be stronger for the state to be able to qualify for the federal grants. “It’s a start,” he said. “We have a long way to go.”

The $4.3 billion Race to the Top competition is the federal government’s carrot for school reform. States will be rewarded for adopting innovative and progressive reform that will lead to more children graduating from high school with the skills they need to succeed in college and work.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has said he and President Barack Obama are looking for reform in four areas: high standards; using student achievement data to track teachers and principals; improved recruitment, retention and training of teachers and principals; and turning around the country’s lowest-achieving schools.

Washington will be applying in the second phase of the competitive grant program. The state’s application is due in June and grants will be announced in September, the federal government has said.

Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, said that the House will seek to strengthen the Senate bill, but said there’s no guarantee Washington will be among the states to win the coveted grants.

“I think the effort is worthwhile in it’s own right,” he said. “We both are improving our system and making it work better. I’d like to push that envelope as much as I can.”