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January 12, 2015 at 5:00 AM

Olympia Watch: Besides money, what will lawmakers debate?

Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times

Photo by Greg Gilbert / The Seattle Times

Washington state lawmakers convene today in Olympia, where hulking budget decisions loom. The Legislature must show the state Supreme Court that it is making substantial progress on increasing public school spending under the court’s McCleary ruling and must deal with a sweeping class size initiative passed by voters in the November election.

Beyond budget talks, several other policy proposals are brewing. Here’s a short list of bills that leaders of education committees expect to see this session:

More college in high school

Some lawmakers want to see more students taking college classes while still in high school. Two bills already filed in Olympia would expand the state’s College in the High School program to include 10th graders, instead of only 11th and 12th graders. The program offers college-level academic courses in high schools for a fee.

Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, who leads the House Education Committee, is a co-sponsor of one of the bills to expand the program. She said she plans to hold a hearing on the bill in her committee during the second week of the session.

No Child Left Behind waiver

Last year, Washington became the first state to lose its No Child Left Behind waiver because it refused to require school districts to use state test scores as part of a teacher evaluations.

But the question may come up again this year.

Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, said he will co-sponsor a bill to require student test scores to make up about 10 percent of a teacher’s evaluation — a notion that met opposition from the state teachers union last year.

Litzow, chairman of the Senate’s Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, said Friday he has 20 votes in favor of the measure, and is seeking six more from the Democrats.

Losing the waiver meant school districts lost control of how they could spend part of about $40 million they receive from the federal government to help the state’s most disadvantaged children.

Litzow said school districts are “just hammered” by the loss of flexibility.

Child care rating system

Some lawmakers say it’s time the state starts paying for a statewide child care rating and improvement system called Early Achievers, which has until now been supported with a large federal Race to the Top grant slated to run out in June.

“This is really the do-or-die session for Early Achievers,” said Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Seattle, chairwoman of the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee.

In his budget proposal last month, Gov. Jay Inslee suggested allocating  $70.5 million  for the program.

Plus a few others: Lawmakers said they expect bills that would pay for more services for homeless students, guide school districts in reducing absenteeism without sending truant kids to court, and expand school breakfast programs. You can watch what bills your lawmakers are introducing here.

Comments | More in News | Topics: 2015 legislative session, Initiatve 1351, McCleary


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