Thursday, February 7, 2013

Bills are moving: What we’re watching ...

... And how you can weigh in

Topics: Discipline; "grading" schools; accountability for reading; epi-pens; safe school buildings; school takeovers; assistance and intervention; starting age for school children; changes to basic education; definition of a school day; family involvement coordinators; responding to troubled youth
IN THE NEWS: House divided on K-12 school funding priority; rejects GOP initiative to budget education first

Dear advocates,

The legislative session is in full swing with bills starting to move out of committee. Funding remains a big question with House Democrats refusing to fund education first and separately in the budget process and Senate Republicans more interested in pursuing additional reforms. House Republicans won’t talk about revenue if it is tied to basic education, and Senate Democrats might talk about revenue, but they are no longer in the majority.

On the policy side, though, the bills are moving in both chambers. Both House and Senate show an interest in closing the opportunity gaps and continuing support for our state’s preschool program.

Our association’s top priority is to support, fund and implement the K-12 reforms put into place in 2009 and 2010, but we have a strong platform that also addresses equity in education and whole child needs.  Following are bills that have moved out of committee and that address our issues. Relevant links are included. New this year is an easy online way to send comments about a bill directly to your representatives and senator. Please – use these updates as resources to advocate for Washington children. Please, share your thoughts with your legislators. They need to hear from you.

This year I am posting all WSPTA testimony onto Grassroots Connection, so you can refer to it as needed for your own advocacy. Please do share links with members and partners of your PTA.

Bills moved out of committee:

Substitute Senate Bill 5244, suspensions and expulsions.

Referred to Ways and Means. 
Bill report

WSPTA: PRO with concerns
WSPTA supports the bill as far as it goes; it does not address (and should) Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports and Social Emotional Learning. To truly address the underlying issues around discipline, schools need to implement behavior interventions.  This bill is a response and is not proactive.

Substitute Senate Bill 5328, school-grading based on the accountability index.

Referred to Rules (for possible Senate floor vote)
Bill report

WSPTA: Evaluating
WSPTA is engaged but has not taken a stance on labels for the new accountability index. Our focus is on developing a useful tool that accurately captures both school successes and challenges in meeting the diverse needs of all our students, including special education and English language learner students. We want a tool that is meaningful and useful to community, family and school alike. We are encouraging members to provide feedback directly to the state board of education through their online survey.


Substitute Senate Bill 5237, Establishing accountability for student performance in reading.

Referred to Ways and Means
Bill report

WSPTA: Concerns
The substitute bill that passed out of the Early Learning and K-12 Education committee deletes most references to retention and instead emphasizes access to preschool and professional development in K-3 reading. It also triggers remediation if students can’t meet basic standards on the state’s third-grade English language arts assessment.

We support the intent and always welcome funding for quality preschool, but continue to be concerned that the bill fails to address the underlying issue for struggling readers. The common trait of children who find reading “remarkably difficult” is not lack of preschool but rather a primary weakness in phonological and phonemic awareness. Ninety-five percent of our children should become successful readers. Currently we are successful with about 70 percent. We will continue to fail struggling readers if we don’t address the phonological and phonemic issues.

We strongly support the addition of funding for professional development and training in K-3 reading but remain concerned that there are no requirements that this training center on evidence-based literacy instruction – that is, direct, explicit, multi-sensory, and systematic literacy instruction that includes phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, spelling, and writing.

Research and evidence shows how you teach reading is tremendously important to about 60 percent of our learners, and especially to students who register on the spectrum of dyslexia, who are English language learners, or who come from vocabulary-poor backgrounds.


Senate Bill 5104, Placing epinephrine autoinjectors in schools.

Referred to Rules for possible Senate floor vote. UPDATE: Bill was amended and the engrossed bill adopted with a vote of 48-0 (1 excused) on 2/8/2013. Will now go to the House.
Bill report

Nationally, PTA supports the development, funding and implementation of school emergency response plans including use food allergy guidelines and anaphylactic kits on site including the school lunchroom, as well as having staff members trained in allergy symptoms and prevention techniques.

Anaphylactic allergies can be fatal; with prompt treatment, however, prognosis is generally good. Accidental ingestion or exposure by children may occur most often at schools and daycares where children often consume two meals and a snack during the day, and in some cases a reaction may be the first sign of an allergy.


Revised Substitute Senate Bill 5197, Taking measures to promote safe school buildings

We support helping schools install appropriate safety features. Appropriations for this bill will need to be made in the capital budget. (They were included as of 2/5/2013). UPDATE: Passed the Senate 2/11/2013, 42-0 with 2 excused votes. Will move onto the House.

Bills to watch

There is no evidence to show forced transfer of public schools to private management companies will result in better outcomes for children.  We have serious concerns about disenfranchising voters and the possibility that this bill will result in a two-tiered system in which families of low economic status and color will disproportionately have their ability to engage with their neighborhood school dictated by a private firm.
Public hearing delayed. WSPTA is engaged on the topic. We appreciate that bonuses for special education teachers are included, but we’re concerned this bill is otherwise limited to Science Technology Engineering and Math teachers. Schools may have different needs, such as ELL-endorsed staff.
Public hearing delayed. This bill would make changes to the program of basic education, primarily by defunding full-day kindergarten and defunding smaller class sizes for third grade. WSPTA opposes these changes, especially to full-day kindergarten.  Basic education must not be redefined to save the state money. All children need access to voluntary full-day kindergarten and the benefits to all children are supported by evidence. The evidence also shows class sizes to be most cost-effective and beneficial in K-2, but class size of 17 remains beneficial into third grade. The program of basic education, as laid out in 2009’s HB 2261, is sound and supported by both research and the higher bar of “evidence.” We are also concerned about maintaining a general and uniform system of schools, per the constitution. This bill would limit access to full-day kindergarten.
Intervention must be a joint effort of state and local entities and include the people most affected – the students and their families – in every step. Washington State PTA supports the required action (and especially the audit component) of 2010’s Senate Bill 6696. This update reaffirms that component while dropping the controversial federal requirements for Race to the Top grants. WSPTA also supports including poor performing non-Title I schools in required action plans.
WSPTA testified with concerns. Senate version has been amended and is an improvement, though we still have concerns
WSPTA is engaged, but has not taken a position on what labels to use in a new accountability index. A Senate version of this bill passed out of committee.
WSPTA has not taken a position. Testimony so far has been from superintendents, school board directors, principals and teachers – all opposed. They testified to the need for short days to accommodate staff collaboration and said with no additional money from the state to lengthen the school day/year, using the school day was their only alternative.
SB 5117 - Regarding family involvement coordinators in public schools.
Washington State PTA supports. Meaningful family engagement can raise student achievement so substantially that schools would need to increase spending by more than $1,000 per child, per year to make up the difference. Family engagement is also an essential component of school turnaround, A longitudinal study out of Chicago showed schools with strong family involvement were ten times more likely to improve math and four times more likely to improve reading than schools weak in this measure. Family engagement also helps with teacher retention.

HB 1336 - Increasing the capacity of school districts to recognize and respond to troubled youth.

WSPTA supports efforts in this area. We would also encourage the state to continue to develop tools to help school staff address students’ social and emotional health, such as support to implement Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports, and adoption of comprehensive K-12 Social Emotional Learning standards.


When the basic education funding bill HB 2261 was passed in 2009 it included the idea of continually reviewing and improving K-12 education, and it set up the Quality Education Council to make ongoing recommendations. So as a general rule, Washington State PTA is open to adjusting and improving basic education components. But we remain opposed to any effort to redefine it for financial reasons, and we are concerned about inadvertently creating a system that grants different levels of access, rigor and opportunity to different communities of children. Basic education is the minimum all children should have access to, and legally the state needs to offer a general and uniform system of schools.

As a state we must commit to providing all of our children an education that will prepare them for career, ongoing study and citizenship. This includes special education students, English language learners, children in poverty or who come from other distressed backgrounds, and children from different cultural and racial backgrounds. We need to provide extra support where needed, but that does not mean we deny access to other groups.

- Ramona Hattendorf, WSPTA Government Relations Coordinator  

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