OLYMPIA — The state Senate narrowly approved two contentious education policy bills Wednesday after a heated debate.
The bills, to give A-F letter grades to schools and to give principals a veto in teacher placements, are top Republican priorities but are strongly opposed by Democrats.
The letter grades passed 26-23, while the principal veto passed 27-22 — both largely along party lines. State Sen. Kirk Pearson, R-Monroe, opposed the first bill but supported the second.
The bills, each sponsored by Senate education Chairman Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, will now head to the Democrat-run House, where passage is far less likely.
Senate Bill 5328, the grading bill, is touted as a way to give parents more information and pressure schools to improve. Opponents view it as a dangerous oversimplification.
Senate Bill 5242, the teacher-placement bill, is meant to giving principals more power and prevent poor-performing teachers from being passed from school to school. Opponents say it would making arbitrary personnel moves easier.
Before the final vote, Democrats proposed several amendments to each bill. When those failed, they spoke repeatedly against the proposals.
“Giving letters makes great headlines,” said state Sen. Nathan Schlicher, D-Gig Harbor, on the first bill. “It doesn’t actually make great policy.”
“What are we doing here?” asked state Sen. Steve Conway, D-Tacoma, on the second bill. “What are we doing here? This is inbalancing the relationship between teachers and their supervisors.”
Echoing a Democratic refrain, Conway added he’s “not willing to support reform bills until we fund our schools.”
State Sen. Steve Hobbs, one of the four Democrats who voted for the bills, said policy changes and funding increases can be achieved.
Republicans said accountability for schools is key.
“We live in a country where anyone willing to work, anyone willing to make sacrifices, can rise from failure and achieve success,” said state Sen. John Smith, R-Colville. “And measuring that success is one of the most victorious and empowering things that a culture can do.”
More floor votes on education policy bills are expected this afternoon.