Inslee: Legislature must act this session to keep school waiver

Staff writerFebruary 25, 2014 

Gov. Jay Inslee, left, announces Feb. 25, 2014 that he will introduce a bill to tweak Washington's teacher and principal evaluation system in an effort to keep the state's waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act. The federal government has said Washington must mandate the use of statewide tests -- not just local ones -- in evaluations or lose its waiver. Joining Inslee at right is Randy Dorn, the state superintendent of public instruction.

MELISSA SANTOS — Staff writer

Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday for the first time that he is convinced that lawmakers must tweak the state's teacher evaluation system so Washington can keep its waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Inslee said he will introduce legislation in the next few days to meet the demands of the U.S. Department of Education, which has said Washington could lose its waiver and its control over roughly $38 million in federal education funds if state lawmakers don't act.

Inslee's announcement comes one week after the state Senate shot down a bill that would have addressed the issue by requiring teacher and principal evaluations to incorporate students' scores on statewide tests.

Inslee said Tuesday that his new legislation will similarly propose mandating the use of statewide tests in evaluations, but he wants to delay the new requirement until the 2017-18 school year.

Prior to Tuesday, Inslee's office said he was hopeful that state officials would be able to persuade the U.S. Department of Education to renew Washington's waiver without an act of the Legislature. But after meeting with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan over the weekend, Inslee said he now believes a legislative fix is necessary for Washington to remain exempt from certain onerous provisions of the federal law.

"We would need to pass a bill," Inslee said Tuesday.

The governor said he is working with lawmakers to come up with a solution that the Legislature can support, and his office hopes to have the legislation ready in the next day or two.

The federal government's concern relates to which tests Washington school districts use in teacher and principal evaluations. State law already requires that student test scores play a significant role in evaluations, but schools can choose which tests they will use: classroom-based, district-based or statewide.

The U.S. Department of Education says the Legislature must mandate the use of the statewide tests, or risk losing Washington's No Child Left Behind waiver for the 2014-2015 school year.

Losing the waiver would mean that at least $38 million in federal education funds for low-income students would have to be set aside for private tutoring efforts, and nearly every school in the state would be labeled as failing.

Inslee said Tuesday that delaying the requirement that school districts use the statewide tests in evaluations would give districts time to transition to a new type of statewide assessment. Schools throughout the state will begin administering tests that align with the new Common Core curricula starting in the 2014-2015 school year.

Inslee said Duncan "expressed a willingness to consider" a delay of the testing requirement, as long as legislative action is taken to address the teacher evaluation issue before lawmakers head home in March.

"We explained to him that (a delay) made sense because it would give us two years of baseline data, it will allow us to complete our teacher evaluation program, and we will be in a much better position to implement it at that time," Inslee said Tuesday.

The state is using a new teacher and principal evaluation system for the first time this year, and some lawmakers have said they are hesitant to disrupt it.

A bill to require the use of state tests in evaluations failed 28-19 in the state Senate Feb. 18, with all but one member of the minority Democratic caucus joining with seven Republicans to vote no.

One of the senators who voted against the bill, Democratic Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe of Bothell, wouldn't comment extensively on Inslee's proposal Tuesday, but indicated she was supportive of his idea to delay changes to the evaluation system.

"There is a good option he came back with as far as timing," McAuliffe said.

Sen. Steve Litzow, a Mercer Island Republican who chairs the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, said it is encouraging that Inslee and other Democrats now seem to agree that the Legislature needs to act for the state to keep its waiver. Litzow sponsored the bill that failed in the Senate last week.

Lawmakers are still quibbling about some details of the legislation Inslee is drafting, though, Litzow said.

"We're all trying to get a bill out that we can all get behind," Litzow said.

Randy Dorn, the state superintendent of public instruction, said retaining the state's No Child Left Behind waiver remains a top priority for his office, and he is working with Inslee to come up with the new plan to put before the Legislature.

"If we don't do this, it definitely would move the state backwards," Dorn said Tuesday. "It would not be good for the state or the kids in our educational system."

The state teachers union still has concerns, however, spokesman Rich Wood wrote in an email Tuesday.

"Teachers still believe mandating the use of state test scores in teacher evaluations is premature and will undercut the collaborative work we're doing to successfully implement the new evaluation system in Washington," Wood said.

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