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Wash. Lawmakers Debate How To Pay for School-Reform Package

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A school-reform bill moving Washington State to a performance-based education system has won approval from the legislature.

But while Gov. Mike Lowry and Superintendent of Public Instruction Judith A. Billings have praised the content of the bill approved last month, they and key education groups also have expressed concern over how it will be funded.

Lawmakers last week were still debating how to pay for the plan's estimated $75 million cost.

The Governor believes that "if we're going to mandate [reforms], then local government shouldn't have to carry the burden,'' said Clarence Moriwaki, a spokesman for Mr. Lowry.

Ms. Billings and education groups have argued that the bill should be paid for with new money, and not by cutting basic education funding. Some lawmakers have suggested the money could come from cuts in pilot projects and special programs. (See Education Week, April 14, 1993.)

"We have supported the concepts in the bill,'' said Judy Hartmann, a lobbyist for the Washington Education Association. "But as the budgets of the House and Senate unfolded, we're faced with a situation where significant cuts are being made to existing programs.''

Lawmakers are expected to offer a final plan to pay for the reforms this month.

The legislation is a scaled-down version of a sweeping reform plan released by a panel headed by Gov. Booth Gardner shortly before he left office at the end of last year.

The bill as approved by the legislature would create statewide learning goals requiring students to understand core concepts in all subjects studied in grades K-12.

Goal Left Out

The final measure does not include, however, a controversial proposed goal that would have asked students to demonstrate that they would be responsible and caring individuals in society.

Because some critics objected to its emphasis on outcome-based education, the bill stresses that a performance-based education system does not require schools to adopt an outcomes model.

While directing the state to place a greater emphasis on what students are learning, instead of what is being taught, the bill sets forth that "decisions regarding how instruction is provided are to be made, to the greatest extent possible, by schools and school district personnel, not by the state.''

In a compromise proposed by Ms. Billings, implementation of the reforms would be postponed to allow districts more time to prepare. The reforms would be voluntary until 2000, after which all public schools would be required to participate.

A Commission on Student Learning would be responsible for developing academic-learning requirements, student assessments, and school-accountability programs.

The bill calls for a certificate of mastery to be awarded to students at about age 16, after they complete the high school assessment. After receiving the certificate, students would take "educational pathways that emphasize the integration of academic and vocational education.''

Schools would be held accountable for the success or failure of their educational model. The legislation authorizes the commission to create a system for intervening in schools or districts "in which significant numbers of students persistently fail to learn the essential academic-learning requirements.''

While they would be allowed to participate, private schools and home schoolers would be exempted from the reforms.

Training, Technology Aid

Other sections of the measure would authorize:

  • New state training programs for teachers and administrators. In addition, the state would finance up to five teacher-planning days beginning in 1994-95.
  • A Center for the Improvement of Student Learning, which would would work with the commission, institutions of higher education, and educational-service districts to provide information to parents, community members, and educators about how to assist students in meeting new learning requirements.
  • An educational-technology plan aimed at coordinating and expanding the use of computers and other learning tools in public schools, with a goal of reducing disparities in access to technology among districts.

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