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February 18, 2014 at 7:30 PM

Unusual alliance leads state Senate to reject teacher-evaluation change

OLYMPIA — Conservative Republican state senators joined with minority Democrats to defeat a teacher-evaluation bill Tuesday evening, dealing a rare defeat to the chamber’s majority leadership just as a key deadline passed.

Supporters of Senate Bill 5246 said its defeat could restrict local school districts’ flexibility to spend about $40 million in federal funding.

The proposal would require that statewide student tests be used as part of teacher and principal evaluations — a change federal officials said would be necessary for Washington to keep its waiver from some painful parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

It was unclear how the bill could be revived, since 5 p.m. Tuesday marked a deadline for non-budget-related legislation to make it out of at least one chamber of the Legislature. The teacher-evaluation bill was the last one the Senate considered before the cutoff.

“I thought we had it, but obviously we didn’t,” said state Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, vice chair of the Senate education committee. “It’s very disappointing.”

Dammeier blamed the loss on Democrats who supported a nearly-identical bill just weeks ago. He said the Democrats reversed course after receiving pressure from the state teachers’ union.

State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, the ranking Democrat on the education committee, said she and others pulled their support after hearing testimony in committee.

“We heard from parents, teachers, school boards,” said McAuliffe, D-Bothell. “They said our state tests are not designed to measure student growth,” as the bill would require.

McAuliffe said Democrats “remain committed to finding the right solution” to keep the No Child Left Behind waiver.

Seven Republicans also sided with Democrats to sink the bill.

Senate Republican Leader Mark Schoesler, who supported the bill, said some of his colleagues voted against the bill because they did not like testing imposed by the federal government.

The Ritzville Republican said the defeat marked the first time the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus — a group of 24 Republicans and two Democrats — has lost a bill vote since forming before last year’s legislative session.

“We decided to take a risk today,” Schoesler said.

State Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said Republican leaders knew the bill would fail but brought it up anyway so they could use the vote in the upcoming midterm elections.

The vote could also be seen as another sign of division in the majority caucus.

Last week, three conservative members of the coalition expressed anger with the leadership. One of them, state Sen. Janea Holmquist Newbry, of Moses Lake,  removed her name from the caucus website.

Comments | More in State Legislature | Topics: Bruce Dammeier, education, education reform


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