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Lack of school accountability policy could cost state millions

By JEFF RHODES | For the Independent

OLYMPIA — Washington lawmakers concluded the 2014 legislative session March 13 without adopting a school accountability policy required by the Obama administration that could cost the state $38 million in federal education funds.

Washington schools have been out of compliance with standards set forth under the federal No Child Left Behind Act for 13 years but have continued to receive funding because of a waiver granted by the U.S. Department of Education. The agency, however, informed state education leaders last fall the waiver would be revoked without changes to school accountability standards.

Specifically, they were told student test scores must play some role in teacher evaluation. How great a role those scores were to play in the process was left up to the individual school districts, just so long as they were given consideration.

Under Senate Bill 5246, Washington would have changed the wording of its evaluation standard from “may” use student test scores to “will.” The bill failed in vote on the Senate floor earlier this month and wasn’t resurrected by the time the Legislature adjourned on March 13.

The measure was originally sponsored by Democrats and had the support of nearly every Republican — as well as Gov. Jay Inslee and Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn.

It was opposed, however, by the Washington Education Association, which adamantly rejects any suggestion that teacher performance be evaluated critically.

Once the union made its wishes known to Democrats, they promptly withdrew their support and the measure died by a vote of 28-19.

Opponents of the bill say the state already has adequate teacher evaluation systems in place and that bowing to the federal government’s wishes would compromise local control over education.

They also insist they can work with the Obama administration to obtain an extension to the waiver.

Thus far, however, they haven’t and, at a time when lawmakers are being forced to increase education funding by billions under the requirements of the 2012 McCleary ruling, the decision to walk away $38 million in federal funding has left many infuriated.

“The teachers' union collects more than $70 million to look after the self-interests of employees, and shielding them from accountability is one of their top priorities,” said Jami Lund, senior education policy analyst for the Olympia-based Freedom Foundation.

Freedom Foundation CEO Tom McCabe was even more blunt.

“The unions spend virtually all of their time lecturing us about how spending more money on schools — and teachers — ultimately benefits the students,” he said. “But when push comes to shove, they’d rather leave almost $40 million on the table than allow us to use empirical evidence to figure out why our schools still can’t measure up to even the minimum standards established under No Child Left Behind.

“This is a vote everyone should remember,” McCabe said, “whenever they hear the teachers’ union whining about ‘what’s good for the kids.’ They couldn’t care less about the kids, and this proves it.”

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