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In order to lobby the Legislature to pass a "Race to the Top" bill that includes charter schools we have created a new organization called Kids First Washington.
If you would like to be part of this effort, please share your email by clicking on the following link:
State Sen. Jim Kastama Introduces SB 6596: Innovation Partnership Schools
We applaud State Senator Jim Kastama for filing SB-6596 which would authorize charter-like schools. If passed along with other RTTT legislation Washington would have a strong chance to receive $150+ million dollars in federal grants. Senator Kastama is putting the needs of children and families first, ahead of the special interests.
Unfortunately, given the Governor's position SB-6596 is unlikely to even get a hearing in the Senate Education Committee.
Last week, with the Washington Education Association (WEA) President standing at her side, Gov. Gregoire announced her legislative proposal for earning a $150+million "Race To The Top" (RTTT) federal grant. Unfortunately, a review of her proposal, SB-6696, demonstrates that Gov. Gregoire decided that keeping the political support of the teachers union in the next election was more important than putting forward a serious proposal to win a RTTT grant.
Because of her decision, Washington State's public schools will forfeit $150+million in RTTT grants. Given Washington State's $2.8 BILLION budget shortfall, Gov. Gregoire will instead be forced to cut education spending, raise taxes, or both.
Unfortunately, the Governor has made a tactical decision that union support in the November legislative elections is more important than the quality of our public schools and the needs of the children and families they serve.
OSPI issued this statement today:
"I've been asked many times if Washington has a chance to acquire a federal Race to the Top grant. My best response is that Senate Bill 6696 will move us past the starting line but will not win the race.
There are good points to the bill. An evaluation system that divides teachers into four levels of effectiveness, instead of the current two, will better pinpoint both good teachers and poor teachers. Principals will receive similar four-level evaluations. Teachers will receive tenure after three years, instead of the current two years.
However, OSPI's evaluation of RTTT criteria, and my discussions with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other federal officials, indicate that we still fall short in a number of areas, such as:
Our lack of truly independent charter schools. The 500-point scale on which grant applications are scored assigns 40 points for charter schools. Even with some innovative schools, such as the School of the Arts in Tacoma and Aviation High School in Des Moines, we likely will receive no more than 10 points. Other states that are more competitive for RTTT money are allowing the poorest performing 5 percent of schools to become charter schools or innovation zones.
Our cumbersome process to remove poor teachers. Currently it takes too long to remove a poor teacher in Washington state. RTTT guidelines don't assign a specific point value to the removal of poor teachers but include many categories for ensuring effective teachers.
Our need to link data and teacher performance. To comply with RTTT guidelines, the bill needs stronger language that student achievement - how they perform on statewide and other tests, and how they might improve over time - be one of multiple measures of a teacher's success. A total of 58 points are given in RTTT scoring for this category.
These are initiatives that President Obama wants, and they will make us more competitive for an RTTT grant."
To win a RTTT grant, Washington state will have to demonstrate that its education reform laws and proposals are better than most other states. Unfortunately, while our state's leaders are happy to propose whatever the WEA will support, other states are raising the bar. Last week Tennessee and Massachusetts joined California and Michigan in passing strong RTTT legislation.
This is how the Boston Globe described the new Massachusetts law:
"The governor trumpeted the bill as a once-in-a-generation achievement designed to narrow the performance gaps that still plague many pupils from poorer households, despite the state's stellar showing on standardized tests. "We can tolerate it no longer,'' Patrick said.
The legislation, which required compromise with a passionate array of entrenched interest groups, should serve as a template for debate on other major issues, the governor said. Now, he added, the responsibility for reform shifts from Beacon Hill to the communities and classrooms where the day-to-day business of teaching occurs.
"For the sake of the children, commit to get it right,'' said Patrick, who has called education reform one of the cornerstones of his political agenda.
The law will ease the way for superintendents to dismiss inadequate teachers and alter tough-to-change workplace rules such as the length of the school day. It will also double the number of charter schools in the state's lowest-performing school districts.
In another incentive for change, half of any funds that Massachusetts receives from the national Race to the Top competition would be funneled to districts that agree to remake their troubled schools.
This is how the Memphis Commercial Appeal described the new Tennessee law:
Eight failing Memphis City Schools could be turned over to charter school companies or other nonprofit groups as early as this fall, according the state's 1,100-page Race to the Top application made public Wednesday. . . .
While most states have not made their applications public, Tennessee posted its application on the Department of Education Web site, tn.gov/education/.
Of the $502 million it is seeking, the largest portion -- $108.8 million -- would be invested in struggling schools, including managing the worst in a special "achievement district" run by the commissioner of education.
SO THE QUESTION IS: Will Washington State improve its RTTT legislattion to the level of the competition, or just "go through the motions." Only time will tell, but right now it looks like the special interests are getting their way in Olympia. That's a shame.