As the final days of 2014 tick by, here are five of the education stories we plan to keep an eye on in 2015:
1. More money for schools
Lawmakers in Olympia will wrestle this session with how to meet a court order to give more state dollars to public schools and pay for a sweeping class size initiative that voters approved in the November election. Some lawmakers say they’re ready to send Initiative 1351 back to voters with a price tag and a proposal for how to pay for it.
But lawmakers will have a tough time dodging the state Supreme Court’s unanimous September decision to hold the Legislature in contempt for failing to ramp up public school spending quickly enough, which the court ordered back in 2012. The court gave lawmakers until the day after the session to come up with a plan to increase school spending to the required levels or convince justices they shouldn’t issue sanctions.
2. Continued college tuition freeze?
Washington lawmakers seem to be leaning toward a repeat of their 2013 decision to freeze higher-education tuition. Gov. Jay Inslee endorsed the idea in his recent budget proposal, and the chair of the Senate’s higher education committee has spoken publicly of her hope of lowering tuition.
Some background: During the Great Recession, the Washington Legislature slashed public college budgets, then allowed schools to make up the difference with tuition hikes as high as 20 percent – a move very unpopular with voters. The Legislature changed course in 2013-15 with a two-year tuition freeze.
3. Seattle’s special ed mess
Seattle Public Schools’ beleaguered special education department faces a June 30 deadline to prove to the state it deserves $3 million in federal funds the state is withholding. Among the problems that need fixing: failure to update the federally required learning plans for special ed students, inability to deliver services outlined in those plans and not providing services consistently from school to school.
Earlier this month, the department’s leader, Zakiyyah McWilliams, resigned after a district probe revealed she emailed a consulting group copies of its competitors’ bids during negotiations for a $150,000 contract with the district.
4. More charter schools
Eight new charter schools will open in 2015. First Place Scholars in Seattle, which opened this fall as the state’s first charter, also faces a series of deadlines to turn itself around after a rocky first few months this fall. First Place previously had operated as a private elementary school, founded to serve homeless students.
5. A Seattle supe who will stick around?
A lot of talk about stability accompanied the Seattle School Board’s decision to tap Larry Nyland as the district’s permanent superintendent last month — the district’s fifth leader in 10 years. Some board members said the district’s need for stable leadership justified forgoing a national search in favor of offering a two-year contract to Nyland, who has led the district as interim superintendent since August. It’s yet to be seen whether extending Nyland’s contract will help slow down top-level turnover at the district, as school board members wanted.
What education stories are you watching? Let us know in the comments.