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    2 lawmakers push for class-size improvements

    The Legislature is lagging on a key aspect of the state Supreme Court's mandates for meeting constitutional requirements to support schools.
    Marko Liias

    Marko Liias John Stang

    Roger Goodman

    Roger Goodman John Stang

    McCleary ain't moving fast enough for some legislators.

    Companion bills on school class sizes have been introduced in the state House and Senate to speed up the Legislature's efforts to comply with a major part of  the "McCleary" ruling, a 2012 decision by the Washington Supreme Court ordering ample support for schools. A key part of the ruling requires the state to reduce teacher-student ratios in grades K-3, as well as increasing instructional hours in high schools and making some other improvements by mid-2019.

    The bills by Rep. Roger Goodman, D-Kirkland, and Sen. Marko Liias, D-Mukilteo, address the teacher-student ratios envisioned in the McCleary ruling. In fact, Goodman and Liias' bills go beyond the McCleary ruling by tackling teacher-student ratios in grades K-12, instead of just K-3.

    In other words, the bills would lock in the schedule of the biggest piece of the McCleary fix-it measures with a new law. And it would expand the teacher-student ratio issue from grades K-3 to grades K-12.

    On Thursday, both lawmakers cited the Legislature's slow pace in complying with the McCleary ruling. The Legislature must spend an extra $4 billion to $4.5 billion from 2013 to mid-2019 to comply with the court's ruling. That time period consists of three budget biennia. The Legislature appropriated  $982 million for 2013-2015. That means an additional $1.5 billion to $1.75 billion will be needed each for 2015-2017 and 2017-2019.

    A coalition of 24 Senate Republicans and two Democrats, which controls the Senate, has a different vision for education reform than the Democrats — and has adopted a less expensive reform agenda that has put a major chunk of the McCleary mandate on a back burner. However, the Supreme Court recently declared that efforts to meet the McCleary requirements are inadequate, zeroing in on the funding shortfall by the Legislature last year.

    Realistically, Goodman and Liias' bills will face likely overwhelming opposition by the majority coalition that controls the Senate. But, Liias said, "You can't pass a bill through the Senate without introducing one."

    Here is what the two bills are supposed to do.

    A few years ago, a bipartisan "Quality Education Council" set up by a 2009 law set targets for teacher-student ratios. Its target of one teacher per 17 students in grades K-3 is the basis of the McCleary ruling's class size order. This year, the actual classroom ratio is one teacher per 25.3 students for grades K-3 in a non-poverty school.

    In grades 4 to 12 at a non-poverty school, the target ratio is 1-to-25, but schools are actually being staffed at 1-to-27 to 1-to-28.7. Both the current and target ratios for high-poverty schools are slightly lower than the non-poverty ratios.

    Goodman's daughter recently had 33 students in her third grade class. "If you cram so many kids in a classroom, a teacher cannot give individual attention to each kid," said Renton parent Katherine Jones, who attended the Goodman-Liias press conference.

    Washington ranks 47th in the nation in teacher-to-student ratios. "We all agree that 47th in the nation is not good enough for our kids," Liias said.

    No calculations have been made yet on how much extra money would be needed to put Goodman and Liias's bills into action. Also, funding sources — likely taxes — have not been identified. Liias said, "You have to explain the need to the public prior to explaining how we get there."

    John Stang covers state government for Crosscut. He can be reached by writing editor@crosscut.com.

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    Posted Tue, Jan 28, 8:09 a.m. Inappropriate

    Another interesting aspect of how our governmental functions are outdated is provided by the judiciary's attempt to control legislative action. The judiciary may read past law and present sociology but its actions makes clear it knows little about the complex paradigms created by industrialization, too rapid population growth, too rapid degradation of ecosystems, resource depletion, and the legislative capability of finding enough money to cope with it all. Essentially the disappearing middle class bears the cost burden of diminishing results and capability. Judicial meddling adds to the blind leading the blind.

    Posted Tue, Jan 28, 3:54 p.m. Inappropriate


    Most of your points are irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that the legislature passed a bill that was signed into a law in 2009. ESHB 2261 defined what basic education was and put a price tag on it. It also stated that all facets of the law had to implemented and paid for by 2018. The Supreme Court ruled for the plaintiff on a law suit brought on by the McCleary family, that stated that the legislature was not making adequate progress in funding the law that they wanted implemented. The Supreme Court agreed that adequate progress was not being made and ordered the legislature to fund its own law. Nothing more, nothing less. Nothing has been directed towards the legislature other than a reminder that they have a constitutional obligation to fund the laws that they create. That being said, the court ruled that they would like to see the legislature's plan for meeting its funding obligation. This is where we are at now. I am sure that the legislature will respond accordingly, not to risk contempt of court which could result in a sterner action by the court though that isn't necessarily what would happen.

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