Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Highlights of the 2012 legislative session

Washington State PTA advocates for the well-being and education of all children. We went into the December 2011 special session with a simple message: Don’t cut Apple Health for Kids and don’t cut basic education. Our focus stayed on the basics through that session, the regular 2012 session and the follow-up special sessions.

Legislators faced tough budgeting decisions; they needed to figure out efficiencies and forge consensus around spending priorities. We asked them to prioritize kids, and in the end they did. Both parties, both chambers. The problem is that designated revenue doesn’t cover what the kids need. It’s short about $2 billion when it comes to funding basic education. Legislators did not address that, though some tried.

For a breakdown of the budget, see an earlier blog post, Cuts stopped; long road ahead for K-12.

Here are some general highlights. In terms of education reform, legislation focused on the needs and growth of individual students. The evaluation bill focused on professional capacity to help kids learn. A lab school bill focused on partnering universities with school districts to figure out how to best support learning for at-risk kids. An early learning skills assessment bill focused on how to help the K-12 system get an accurate snapshot of where individual kindergartners are developmentally, and how staff and parents can use that information.

School funding:

Money discussion tabled – again

This winter, the Washington Supreme Court ruled the state was not meeting its paramount constitutional duty. It said fully implementing HB 2261 (which broadened the definition of basic education and established a funding model for it) would qualify as “amply funding education”; and it said it would retain jurisdiction of the case to ensure the state fulfilled its legal duty.

After the decision came down, the legislature changed course; it did not cut school days, levy equalization, or any education funding (“enhancement” or basic education). HOWEVER … it also did not restore cuts made over the past 3 years, nor make any headway in fully funding HB 2261 by 2018. HB 2261 is often called the state’s blue print for basic education. A follow-up bill, HB 2776, laid out a phase-in plan.

In its closing days, the legislature set up a taskforce to draft a payment plan for basic education. If the plan or plans do not include new revenue, the task force must identify suggested cuts. The price tag for partial implementation of HB 2261 is $1.6 billion. This would cover K-3 class sizes of 17; full-day kindergarten for all; as well as increased funding for maintenance, supplies and operating costs and transportation. This would not cover the additional instructional time in middle and high school needed to cover a typical 6-hour day.
Currently the state covers 5 hours of instructional time. Local levies (or levy equalization funding for those who qualify) cover the rest.
Big decision next session: Where to find the $2 billion (possibly more) in additional revenue for basic education: Raise taxes? Take from non-education programs? Find operational savings?
More on payment plan bill, HB 2824
New teacher and principal evaluations:

Decisions on required components and usage

Two years ago, the legislature passed a big education reform bill (SB 6696) that called for new 4-tier evaluations for teachers and principals (among other reforms). That bill also established the Teacher and Principal Evaluation Pilot to develop and try out new evaluation systems and gather information for further decision making.

The evaluation systems built by the Teacher and Principal Evaluation Pilots focus on staff ability to foster student progress. This is called a “professional growth model.”

This year, the legislature passed a follow-up evaluation bill that establishes some requirements. The bill, SB 5895:

  • Clarifies that evaluations will be used to inform staffing decisions, including hiring, firing, placement and Reduction in Force (layoff) decisions. Details are to be determined at the local level. (School board directors are responsible for ensuring assignment policies and school programs support the learning needs of all students. This was one of the changes in 2010’s reform bill, SB 6696)
  • Creates a transition period for phasing in the new evaluations and establishes how often, and to what extent, staff will be evaluated.
  • Establishes consistency and designates money for training. (For example, evaluations must be based on an approved instructional or leadership framework; must use a summative score, etc.)
  • Requires multiple measurements of student GROWTH to be a factor. There is a distinction between focusing on a single standardized test score and checking various ways to make sure students are progressing. One checks for a level of achievement, the other checks for how much students have learned between two points in time. The new state law mandates the latter.
  • Requires student growth data to be relevant to the class and linked to the teacher.
  • Continues the work of the Teacher and Principle Evaluation Pilot to inform ongoing decision-making. The TPEP steering committee is made up of representatives from the statewide school board director, superintendent, principal and teacher associations, Washington State PTA, the governor’s office and OSPI.
  • The TPEP steering committee will now gather information to help devise a summative scoring system and will continue to research use of student growth data.
Improving early learning:
WaKIDS, transitions and supporting kindergartners
Washington State defines early learning as birth to grade 3. The Department of Early Learning and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction have been working on increasing access to high quality early learning for several years. One component of this is improving transitions into kindergarten (for instance, does school staff know the learning needs of each student and are they able to meet them?); another is improving access to quality Pre-K to Grade Three instruction so all children have the foundation they need for middle and high school.
The Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills was jointly developed by the Department of Early Learning and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Private partners include Thrive by Five and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. WaKIDS has three components:
  • Family Connection welcomes families into the Washington K-12 system as partners in their child’s education.
  • “Whole-Child” Assessment gives kindergarten teachers information about the social and emotional, physical, cognitive and linguistic development of the children in their classrooms, so they may tailor their instruction to the individual needs of each child.
  • Early Learning Collaboration aligns practices of early learning professionals and kindergarten teachers to support smooth transitions for children.
The initial WaKIDS bill passed last year, after a pilot phase. Starting in 2012-13 WaKIDS will be required at all state-funded full day kindergarten programs. Some schools implemented it this year on a voluntary basis.
  • Since passage of the original bill, the state secured federal money to roll out WaKIDS to all schools, but school sites had concerns about implementation. A new bill this year sets up a group to work on implementation. The bill also requires schools already doing this type of skills inventory to use the WaKIDS’ assessment. (The state needs uniform data.)
  • The intent is to roll WaKIDS out to every school; it is a key part of our state’s early learning plan. WaKIDS is intended to give all concerned a snapshot of where each child is in the developmental process when they start kindergarten. This will help inform state-level decisions about education policy and funding as well as child-level partnerships between family and school staff.

Frequently Asked Questions
A note on charter public schools:

Washington State PTA has qualified support for charter public schools and is actively looking for ways to close our state's entrenched achievement gaps. The association is supportive of allowing charter public schools in Washington as a way to improve accountability and innovation – but only if the charter public schools support our principles and follow state law.
Charter school discussion dominated some advocacy blogs this winter and spring, but the House and Senate charter school bills introduced this session never made it out of committee. The bills didn’t align with Washington State PTA criteria and we gave feedback about our concerns, hoping the bills could be improved. The bills never advanced to the point where they are discussed by committee members and where amendments are introduced.

WSPTA’s legislative agenda

Washington State PTA’s No. 1 legislative priority is giving all kids a great basic education.

We want all children to have the opportunity to graduate ready for college and career – and by “college and career” we mean prepared to take on a family-wage job or prepared to step into a trade or technical college, or a 2- or 4-year college without remediation.
Our approach to our top priority is twofold: Address the funding issues (2009’s HB 2261) and make systemic improvements (2010’s SB 6696).

Rounding out our Top 6 priorities:
  • Improving math and science education;
  • Adopting statewide phonological awareness screening and research-based direct literacy instruction
  • Changing reduction in force policies to include factors other than just seniority
  • Funding education first in the budgeting process
  • Adopting a research-based teacher compensation model that emphasizes rewarding teacher effectiveness in student learning
These priorities were decided in October 2010 and will be replaced when delegates vote in a new 2-year platform this fall (October 19-20, 2012).
Our 2-year platform consists of our top issues (which get more of our time and resources) and other positions considered timely and important, but not ranked as a top priority. These include:
  • Improving food quality in breakfast and lunch programs
  • Making physical education/health a core subject

In October 2011, delegates added another six positions to the “also supported” list. They will also expire this fall, when a new platform is voted in. They include:
  • Adopting strategies to eliminate achievement gaps and improve educational opportunities
  • Increasing access to early learning and all-day kindergarten, and improving transitions and supports for pre-K to grade 3
  • Eliminating barriers to K-12 highly capable programs
  • Renewing support for the federal juvenile justice act and adopting strategies to improve our state system
  • Driving innovation and accountability by allowing public charter schools
  • Creating consistent school speed zone and school warning signage across all districts, counties and cities

Any member can submit a proposal for our legislative platform. The deadline is June 1 for consideration at our next legislative assembly.
-- Ramona Hattendorf, Washington State PTA Government Relations Coordinator

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