Revised Reform Package Wins Strong Backing of Wash. House3

By Ellen Flax — March 13, 1991 3 min read

The Washington House has overwhelmingly approved a modified version of Gov. Booth Gardner’s plan for an overhaul of education in the Evergreen State.

The bill, passed by the House March 1, would gradually reduce or eliminate many state education regulations and make major changes in student assessment.

The measure faces an uphill battle, however, in the Senate, where members of the Republican majority have questioned the efficacy of the House plan and are offering up their own reform package.

Much of the disagreement centers on money, observers say. The House plan would not provide additional funds for reform efforts, while the Senate bill would channel an additional $171.5 million to schools.

“I don’t think we can restructure without having basic restructuring dollars,” said Senator Cliff Bailey, chairman of the Senate Education Committee and sponsor of the competing education-reform bill.3

“Without the money, I don’t think we would get the kind of results we would need,” Mr. Bailey argued.

Mr. Gardner, a Democrat, unveiled in January a reform package that would have have made grades, grade levels, and high-school diplomas irrelevant and obsolete. (See Education Week, Jan. 9, 1991.)

Under the Governor’s original plan, most state education standards and requirements would have been eliminated. Instead, students would have been required to meet statewide performance standards developed by a new state commission. Local educators were to be given wide latitude in determining how their students would meet these standards.

At about the same time, Superintendent of Public Instruction Judith Billings released her own prescription for reforming education. Under her plan, schools would also have been released from many state rules.3

The Billings proposal called for the state board of education to retain control over graduation requirements, however, and would have given it, not the new commission, authority to develop the performance standards.0

After several weeks of negotiation, the House adopted a measure that contains elements of both Mr. Gardner’s and Ms. Billings’s plans.

In the compromise proposal, which also includes changes sought by representatives of the state’s edu cation community, an independent commission would decide by 1995 what students need to know and how to assess their knowledge.

Until then, however, regulations would remain under the jurisdic tion of the state board, and schools that drafted restructuring plans could request waivers from certain state rules.

Under the compromise, the com mission would also determine what students need to know in order to earn a “certificate of initial masL tery.” In the Governor’s proposal, the relationship between the new certificate and a high-school diplo ma was not specified. Under the compromise bill, the commissionL0would decide the issue.

On the question of money, the compromise bill calls on the com mission to identify the “time, sup port, and resources needed by schools” to carry out the reforms. The Governor had asked for no new money for such efforts, while Ms. Billings sought a large increase in state education funding.

“I think [the bill] has been greatly improved,” said Mary McKnew, the Governor’s executive policy assistant. “It’s pretty revolutionary stuff we are asking the legislature to do in a short period of time."0

The Senate education committee, meanwhile, has approved Mr. Bailey’s proposal to create several new , matching-grant programs and con tinue a “no strings attached” block- grant program that the Governor had eliminated from his budget. Al though the bill does not eliminate any state regulations, it allows dis tricts to apply for waivers.0

It is unclear if common ground be tween the House and Senate bills can be found. Some senators say the House bill would provide too much authority to the commission and not enough funds for education. But, ac cording to Ms. McKnew, Mr. Gard ner will not accept a bill that does not include the outside commission and provisions to repeal state regu lations.

“The issue comes down to, ‘How many digits do you have to attach [to a bill] to make a major policy change?”’ said Representative W. Lim Peery, who guided the formation of the compromise bill as chairman of the House Education Committee. Educators said last week they’ve mixed feelings about both measures. While the substance of the House bill is more acceptable to many than the provisions in the Senate bill, several said they backed the additional funding included in Mr. Bailey’s measure.

“They are so far apart right now,” said Kristine Van Gorkom, assisL tant director of the Washington As sociation of School Administrators.

A version of this article appeared in the March 13, 1991 edition of Education Week as Revised Reform Package Wins Strong Backing of Wash. House3