New Energy in Senate education committee

The new majority in the Washington State Senate is bringing New Energy to the tired status quo in Olympia. Solutions and ideas are now being openly discussed in many Senate committees.

A great example is a recent public hearing on education reform in the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. The blog posting below is a first-hand account from the committee and includes links to watch the hearing and view the in-depth presentation given by education policy expert Dr. Marguerite Roza.

I encourage you to share this with anyone you feel may be interested.

The New Openness in Olympia – Blocked Education Reforms get a Hearing

By Liv Finne

Wednesday afternoon a blast of cold, fresh air blew through a Senate hearing room in Olympia. New ideas for improving public schools were allowed a hearing. Under the leadership of Senator Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island), the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee convened its first meeting. Former Chair of the Committee, Senator Rosemary McAuliffe (D-Bothell), looked on as ideas she had blocked for years were openly discussed.

You can watch the hearing here. Here is a summary of the points made:

1) The Legislature has the power and responsibility to define Basic Education. The Legislature can repeal HB 2261 and still comply with the McCleary court decision, said Senior Assistant Attorney General Dave Stolier;

2) More money for the schools does not mean better schools, said national school finance expert Professor Marguerite Roza. She showed a graph of Washington school district spending, which shows there is very little relationship between spending and student outcomes.

See page 2 of Professor Roza’s Powerpoint.

3) Built-in cost escalators will outpace revenues for K-12, based on CBO assumptions, so reform is necessary to protect 180 days of instruction and other public education programs for children;

4) School employee benefits are consuming an increasing share of expenditures, with Washington’s school staffing benefits rate growing from 22.9% in 2004 to 30% in 2008, starving classrooms of needed funds.

5) District staffing had been growing through recessions and is only now starting to fall.

6) By financing a per-student dollar amount, the Legislature can allow districts to innovate and better spend their money on improving student learning. Small districts are the engines of innovation. HB 2261’s prototype school staffing formulas will block such innovations, causing small, high-performing districts to pay unneeded personnel costs.

7) Class sizes—national research shows teacher effectiveness is the most important factor for student learning, far more important for student learning than reducing class sizes. Parents know this and choose the best teacher over a smaller class size every time. Teachers would prefer receiving a $5,000 bonus over reducing their class size by two students.

8) HB 2261 prototype school staffing formulas are already out-of-date, as is the single salary pay scale.

A new day is dawning for children in our state. Sound reform ideas that were denied a hearing in the past are now being included in the policy debate, thanks to the new openness of Chairman Litzow.