Washington State Lawmakers Make Education a Top Priority
The following offers highlights of the recent legislative sessions. Precollegiate enrollment figures are based on 2006-07 school year data reported by state officials for public elementary and secondary schools. The figures for precollegiate education spending do not include federal flow-through funds, unless noted.
Lawmakers in Washington state made education the major subject of their 2007 legislative session, increasing school funding and modifying the requirement that all high school students pass portions of the state’s academic test in order to graduate.
Urged on by Gov. Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, who emphasized the need to prepare students for the global economy, and by Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson, Democratic-led majorities in both chambers approved new money to help students who have not met standards in math and science and to help teachers improve their professional skills.
The state’s two-year budget for the 2007-08 and 2008-09 school years will have $165 million in new money for school districts, including allocations for special education, nonteaching employees in areas such as security and technology, pay equity among districts for nonteaching employees, transportation, technology upgrades, and vocational-equipment replacement.
The legislature also stepped into the controversial area of school districts’ taxing powers by proposing a constitutional amendment to repeal the two-thirds supermajority now required from local voters to approve school levies. If approved in a statewide election in November, the amendment would allow a simple majority of voters to pass school levies, something that districts have been seeking.
Perhaps the most contentious issue of the session, which adjourned April 22, was how to modify the requirement that high school students, beginning with the class of 2008, pass the mathematics section of the 10th grade Washington Assessment of Student Learning, or WASL, as well as the reading and writing sections.
The math requirement, even with alternative assessments that were approved last year, appeared likely to block many students from getting their diplomas next year.
Legislators voted to delay the requirement by five years so that schools could make improvements in math curriculum and instruction.
The bill authorized the state board of education to reinstate the math requirement more quickly if appropriate. It left in place the reading and writing WASL requirements. Lawmakers added alternative assessments in math, reading, and writing that would be offered to students as a substitute for passing the WASL.
Gov. Gregoire has until May 12 to sign the legislation into law.
Vol. 26, Issue 36, Page 22