Published Online: March 10, 2010

Gov. Says Wash. School Reform Is Required

Gov. Chris Gregoire said Tuesday that she'll keep lawmakers in Olympia until they resolve their debate over school reform.

"The one thing I do know we need to do before anyone goes home is reforms in the K-12 system," Gregoire said. "We're going to have to make that happen, not only for Race to the Top, but even more importantly to me, for the success of the children."

As the end of the legislative session nears, the Senate and the House had yet to reach a compromise on this session's two big education reform measures.

The first issue is how the state should prepare to apply for a piece of the $4.35 billion the federal government wants to split among states involved in education reform. The second is what should be the next step toward revising the way in which Washington state pays for basic education.

Lawmakers in the House say the two issues should not be separated. They have passed a bill that combines elements of both ideas.

The Senate has approved the reforms associated with the federal Race to the Top competition but want to hold off on education finance reform.

Lawmakers in both houses said negotiations continue.

Gregoire told a group of reporters that she doesn't usually like to label things as "go home" issues. But her proposal to change state law in preparation for the state's application for Race to the Top dollars is an exception.

On the House's efforts to combine the two issues — by amending the Race to the Top bill — Gregoire said she didn't want anything to stand in the way of her bill.

Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said the two reform bills must be connected.

"Either both have to pass, or neither will pass," he said Tuesday.

Sullivan said the problem in passing the Race to the Top bill without approving the next step in education reform, which includes a $1 billion down-payment on ideas like all-day kindergarten and pupil transportation, is that the Legislature would be sending another unfunded mandate home to the state's public schools.

"It's just ironic that we've spent quite a bit of time talking about unfunded mandates, and here we are about to do it again," Sullivan said.

Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, said she strongly supports both reform bills, but believes they should be voted on separately.

The education finance reform bill is tied up in negotiations over the budget, but that shouldn't stop the House from approving the Race to the Top bill minus the amendment the Senate will not approve, McAuliffe said.

"They are two distinctly different bills, and they each need to stand on their own merit," she said.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, of Spokane, explained in a Monday blog post that the state Senate is committed to getting the state ready for the Race to the Top competition and wants to find more money for K-12 education, but she doesn't think the state can find those dollars this year.

Brown said last year's passage of the education reform bill is a promise that will be kept, when a new source of money is identified.

"While the Senate absolutely agrees that our K-12 schools need additional support, we believe in passing legislation we know we can fund," Brown wrote.

She expressed a desire to move ahead on the Race to the Top reforms and to keep talking about how to find more money for basic education.

The application for Race to the Top dollars calls on states to commit to at least some things on a list of reforms, such as improving teacher evaluation, agreeing to national education standards and fixing the lowest performing schools.

The governor's plan includes a new school accountability plan from the State Board of Education; the first state evaluation criteria for principals, who have been evaluated under general administrative guidelines; alternative new ways to become a teacher; and plans to pay teachers more for innovation, improving achievement gaps or developing a program that focuses on science and technology.

The state's application for Race to the Top is due in June.

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