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Push To Regain Washington State's No Child Left Behind Waiver Stalls In Committee

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, speaks during a committee hearing in 2013.

A bid to get back Washington state's waiver from the No Child Left Behind law — and regain for school districts the flexibility to spend $40 million in federal funding that came with that waiver — appears to have hit a dead end in Olympia.

Majority Democrats in the House Education Committee on Thursday blocked a procedural maneuver to force an up-or-down vote on a bill making changes to the state's teacher evaluation system in hopes of convincing federal education officials to give Washington its waiver back.

Senate Bill 5748, which would require school districts to use statewide standardized test scores as a factor in teachers' ratings, will get what Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, terms a "courtesy hearing" in the committee next week. But it is not likely to make it to a vote of the full House.

'It's Gotten Watered Down'

The state's largest teachers union, the Washington Education Association, has opposed the bill. Union spokesman Rich Wood called the measure "politically-driven," saying it's not in the best interests of teachers or students to use individual test scores in teacher ratings.

Magendanz, who attempted to bring the measure to an up-or-down vote, says the bill is an attempt at compromise. The measure wouldn't take effect until the 2017-18 school year, and the bill allows each school district could negotiate with local teachers unions on how big of a role the test results would play in evaluations.

"The WEA has been fairly aggressive in their position on this issue, and so yeah, it's gotten watered down. It's gotten to the point where districts could bargain it away," Magendanz said.

But, he added, "you're talking about $40 million. Would you rather have local school districts in control of that money, or would you rather have the federal government be in a position where they impose these sanctions and this one-size-fits-all remedy for all schools?"

Impacts Of The Waiver Loss

The U.S. Department of Education pulled Washington state's waiver from the No Child Left Behind law last year after lawmakers failed to pass similar legislation. Without it, federal officials now hold Washington schools to the 2001 law's original goal: that all students would be passing reading and math tests by now.

Few schools in Washington meet that standard, so most parents received letters from school districts at the beginning of the school year explaining their child's school is "failing."

The loss of the waiver also required districts to set aside a portion of their federal Title I funding to pay for outside tutoring services or to transport students to another school. Though districts haven't lost the funding, it's also difficult for them to write that money into their budgets. Under the waiver, some districts has used the money to pay for programming, like preschool services or in-school tutoring sessions.

'It's Not Good Policy Yet'

The House Education Committee has scheduled a hearing for Monday, its final meeting before a Wednesday deadline to pass bills out of their policy committee of origin and on to the full House. That leaves no time for a vote.

During Thursday's House Education Committee hearing, Magendanz made a motion to bring the waiver bill to an immediate vote. The motion failed by one vote — 10-10, with a majority vote required — along party lines with Democrats voting against it and one Republican excused.

Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater, also says it wouldn't be a good idea to re-tool the state's teacher evaluation system based on a federal law Congress might re-write anyway. Even if Congress doesn't pass a replacement for No Child Left Behind, Reykdal questions the value of using student test scores in evaluating teachers.

"There is almost no validity to tying an individual teacher to student scores in two narrow subjects like math and English," Reykdal said earlier this week.

"So this," he added, "isn't good policy yet."

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.