Lawmakers beholden to special interests usually manage to conceal their obeisance. But last year’s Legislature outed itself when it openly fumbled away almost $40 million for impoverished schoolchildren at the behest of the state’s teachers union.
Last week, the state Senate reversed its shameful 2014 performance by approving a measure that would let local school districts regain control of that federal money.
There are downsides to having Republicans run the Senate, but one of the upsides is that they generally don’t let the Washington Education Association dictate their votes on school policy.
The House — which is controlled by Democrats — could be a different story. We’ll soon find out whether its majority gives kids priority over the political powers that bankroll Democratic legislative campaigns.
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What happened last year was one of the starkest displays of political cowardice in memory.
The 2014 session began with the widespread expectation that the Legislature would secure a permanent waiver from the detested No Child Left Behind law. To do so, it had to require that statewide tests be used — or at least mentioned — in the evaluation of teachers and principals.
The Obama administration had been exempting states from the draconian penalties of No Child Left Behind on condition that they tied evaluations to statewide tests and took other reasonable steps toward accountability and rigor.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan had given waivers to more than 40 states. The waivers meant that school districts could escape NCLB’s harshest sanction — the loss of control over a big chunk of federal money earmarked for helping low-income kids.
Duncan had given Washington a conditional exemption on the understanding that the 2014 Legislature would order at least minimal use of statewide testing data. Minimal could mean minuscule. A school district could make the data count for as little as 1 percent of the evaluation if it wanted to.
Without a waiver, many districts would have to divert those funds from classrooms to things like private tutoring and bus rides to other districts. If the Legislature didn’t act, Tacoma Public Schools alone stood to lose almost $2 million a year.
The Legislature didn’t act. The prospect of even 1 percent was apparently an outrage so great it justified forfeiting control of those millions.
In mid-session, the WEA started jerking chains and issuing marching orders to its servants in the Legislature. The House and Senate dropped the effort to keep the waiver. To appease the union, they sold out the kids. Washington lost its waiver.
It hurt. In some cases, teachers got laid off. Tacoma — which needed that money — was slammed particularly hard.
The Senate has acted; now the House has a chance to demonstrate its loyalties. We don’t know yet where those loyalties lie, but we know where they belong: with kids from poor families, not union leaders with rich war chests.