Monday, January 19, 2009

Bipartisan group of legislators to introduce bill that overhauls state’s K-12 system

The task force that spent nearly two years reviewing Washington’s definition of “basic education” and how to pay for it has released its final recommendations for an overhaul of the state’s K-12 funding system.

The proposals start with a new definition of “basic education,” a definition that encompasses the state’s legal and constitutional obligation to fund kindergarten through 12th grade. The new definition takes a “start with the end goal in mind” approach that links graduation requirements with the program of education necessary for children to have a viable opportunity to meet those requirements, and gain an education that helps them be college or work ready.

The report goes on to recommend that the Legislature move from a finance system based on funding levels to one based on service levels. In other words, instead of deciding to send a district $1 million for class size reduction (a number that doesn’t say much about how many students-per-class that translates to), legislators would decide to fund 25 students per teacher.

The task force further recommends that the Legislature:
  • Eliminate increases in teacher pay for obtaining degrees and instead reward teachers for earning certification and demonstrate competence through a new peer evaluation system;
  • Create a comprehensive mentoring program for new teachers;
  • Provide bonuses to schools that demonstrate growth in academic achievement;
  • Address district inequities by eliminating grandfathered salary differences and various levy lids;
  • Address the persistent achievement gap by providing resources so disadvantaged children will receive significantly more instructional time to help them catch up;
  • Increase accountability by requiring districts to use common accounting and student information systems to be provided by the state; and
  • Include early learning for at-risk students in the definition of basic education.
The next steps are up to the Legislature. Representatives Pat Sullivan (D-Covington), Ross Hunter (D-Medina), Skip Priest (R-Federal Way), and Glenn Anderson (R-Fall City) will hold a press conference tomorrow to discuss their bill to set these recommendations into motion.

The full report can be found online here. Legislators have also prepared a summary that can be found online here. The Legislature will ultimately have to approve any of the recommended changes.