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    Spokane Republican wants big changes in school improvement spending

    More money aimed at complying with a state Supreme Court ruling would go to pre-school and college improvements.
    Michael Baumgartner

    Michael Baumgartner

    Sen. Mike Baumgartner wants to to revise how the state complies with a 2012 Supreme Court ruling to improve the school system.

    Baumgartner, R-Spokane, announced plans Thursday to introduce a bill that would dramatically change the Legislature's plan of attack on improving public education. He would change the definition of "basic education" in Washington as a major part of the revision. In broad strokes, his plan would de-emphasize improving teacher-student ratios in grades 2 and 3 and increase emphasis on supporting students in pre-schools and college.

    “Not only will the (bill) significantly improve educational outcomes for early-learning students as well as provide an unprecedented opportunity for Washington students to go to college, but it creates a better definition of education on which we can build the world-class, 21-century education system that our kids deserve," he said.

    He added, “I believe the (bill) is the common-sense solution to a policy impasse the Legislature created when it tried to put a dollar figure on the term 'basic education.' "

    Baumgartner said his bill would spend the same $4 billion to $4.5 billion estimate to be needed to meet the 2012 Supreme Court ruling's deadline of mid-2019, but would reallocate the cash to what he believes are more efficient ways to improve schools.

    In 2012, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the state has not been meeting its constitutional obligations in providing a "basic education" for Washington's students. The court zeroed in a 2009 law — passed then mostly by Democrats and opposed then mostly by Republicans — that sets a ratio of one teacher per 17 students in Grades K-3. Currently, the staffing ratio is actually one teacher per 25.3 students. The court decision also calls for increasing the number of credits to graduate high school and slightly increasing the number of hours taught annually in Grades 9-12.

    The bottom line: The Supreme Court ordered more elementary school teachers to be hired with state money to handle smaller classes. The state must also pay for the extra facilities to handle the additional, smaller classes.

    So far, the Legislature has appropriated $982 million for 2013-2015. Gov. Jay Inslee has been trying to persuade a reluctant Senate Majority Coalition Caucus  — 24 Republicans and two Democrats — to consider adding another $200 million for 2014-2015.

    Republicans in both chambers have balked at the $4 billion-to-$4.5 billion estimate, and have argued that reforms in the schools can improve education better than raising extra money to spend.

    The Supreme Court has recently disagreed, declaring that the Legislature has already fallen behind on providing adequate funding to meet the 2012 ruling. It has ordered the Legislature to present it a catch-up plan by April 30.

    A big question in Olympia is whether the Republicans — already critical of the 2012 decision — will defy the court on the funding matter. Another question is whether the Supreme Court can force the Republican legislators to do something they don't want to do, Republicans, including Baumgartner, argue that the court has exceeded its constitutional powers by ordering the Legislature to make specific appropriations.

    If passed, Baumgartner's proposal would seem to drastically revamp the Supreme Court's 2012 remedies.

    He would leave aside improvements in the teacher-student ratios in grades 2-3, and reroute that money to pre-school programs, which be able to serve roughly 6,800 more 3-and 4-year-olds. Some of the cash would be available to pay "top teachers" $100,000 a year. He said rerouting the grade 2-3 money would free up $600 million for the other measures. His bill would keep the student-teacher-ratio targets intact for kindergarten and first grade. Baumgartner contended research show improved ratios would help in kindergarten and first gate, but would have diminishing returns in grades 2-3.

    Some of the second- and third-grade student-teacher-ratio money would go to high-poverty school districts. And it would pay the top 1,200 teachers in the state with $100,000 annual salaries for two years. The annual $120 million for this program would be divided among school districts according to size. Principals would nominate "top teacher" candidates for each district. The local school board would select the top teachers. A top teacher would have to be renominated and reselected after two years in order to stay at that pay grade.

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    Posted Fri, Feb 7, 5:58 a.m. Inappropriate

    All of these education reform schemes that are centered around "teacher quality" are misguided. Whether they are about firing the "poor" teachers or showering money on the "great" teachers, they all rely on the wrong-headed beliefs that teacher quality can be easily quantified and that teacher quality is a significant factor in student achievement. Both of these beliefs are simply wrong.

    Efforts to quantify teacher quality have relied heavily on student test scores - either the raw scores or so-called "value-added" measures. These efforts might make sense if it were not for the fact that home-based factors grossly outweigh any school-based factors that determine student achievement. How can we even begin to measure the effectiveness of teachers in non-tested subjects? How could this model even begin to explain the range of scores we see in every class? Even among the school-based factors, there has never been any serious attribution analysis for content, instructional materials, instructional strategy, the influence of the peer group, the principal, or district policies. People give the credit or blame to anyone they want at any time.

    Finally, I don't know what effect Mr. Baumgartner thinks his teacher lottery will have, but it is a deeply flawed idea. People don't go into teaching for the money and money - or the slim possibility of money - won't make them teach any "harder". It simply won't be effective as an incentive. It's weird that he thinks it would. It is, however, telling that he devised such a subjective process for awarding it.


    Posted Fri, Feb 7, 9:35 a.m. Inappropriate

    "and that teacher quality is a significant factor in student achievement. Both of these beliefs are simply wrong."

    ~speaking of deeply flawed, good grief!...teacher quality IS a significant factor. A combination of exceptionally talented and gifted teachers AND a great culture of caring adults...has always been and will always be the most clear and obvious solution. It can overcome all home based issues, poverty, pick your excuse.

    The real question is do we, as a society have the "stomach" to fund what we know is the real solution. Pretty sad that we have to have a Supreme Court ruling to practice Stewardship of our own future generation. Good grief...


    Posted Sun, Feb 9, 3:07 p.m. Inappropriate

    Rich1, do you have any data - any at all - to support this contention?


    Posted Fri, Feb 7, 9:41 a.m. Inappropriate

    Thanks Rep. Baumgartner...but speaking from nearly 4 decades of actually doing the work instead of just talking about the work, simply moving the money around or changing the definition so that we can now hurdle a lower bar is not Stewardship. The Constitution says education is the paramount duty, not "education redefined" is the paramount duty. I get the fact that we don't want to pay the bill...we've been "not paying the bill" for nearly 30 years since the last court order. Now we are going to redefine the bill? That's the same as telling the family that the greens fees are going up, so that means we have to redefine what dinner looks like to keep our grocery costs down.

    Sadly, we race around trying to avoid paying $4 or 5 billion more for our children at the same time as continuing to pay and support nearly $100 billion each biennia on tax preferences? That is Stewardship? Good Grief...


    Posted Tue, Feb 11, 6:59 a.m. Inappropriate

    I would really, really like it if the state supreme court found the leadership of the state legislature in contempt and threw all of them in jail for a while.

    It's not going to happen, but I would really, really like it.


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