KEY education reforms once presumed dead have a second chance at life in the state Legislature.
The bills missed various deadlines and cutoff dates as lawmakers debated ways to improve public schools. Now in the waning days of the 105-day session, the Legislature has passed two smart reforms and other good ideas need action.
Heading to the governor’s desk is a bill that gives the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction long-requested authority to intervene in school districts with persistently low-achieving schools. The second urges school districts to automatically enroll qualified students in advanced-placement classes — something the Federal Way School District already does. Enrollment in college-level courses has increased in the South King County district. Lawmakers erred by making the bill voluntary. A worthy change in the next legislative session would replace “voluntary” with “mandatory.”
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• Senate Bill 5904 and House Bill 1723
are two proposals integral to building a comprehensive early-learning system for Washington’s citizens from birth to 5 years old. One links services for at-risk infants, child care and preschool to create a coordinated system. The other adds slots to the state Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program as Washington moves toward providing pre-K for every 3- and 4-year-old.
• The surge in science, technology and engineering jobs requires stronger preparation in high school. House Bill 1472 would allow Advanced Placement Computer Science to count as a mathematics or science credit toward high-school graduation requirements.
• House and Senate education leaders’ focus on third-grade reading proficiency is an effective way to ensure students are on track academically. Senate Bill 5237 puts the onus rightfully on local school districts. Third-graders will not be held back if they’re not reading proficiently but schools will have to offer tutoring, summer school or other help.
• Senate Bill 5244 offers some common sense and coherence to the ways schools are allowed to suspend and expel students. The bill would limit suspensions and expulsions to one year with exceptions in the interest of public health or safety allowed. School disciplinary rates would be made public and schools would be required to develop re-enrollment and education plans for expelled students.
• Last year the Legislature passed a stronger teacher-evaluation system and this year lawmakers want to broaden the hiring pool of teachers. House Bill 1178 would allow Washington to accept teacher test scores from teacher-preparation programs other than the current Washington Educator Skills Test Basic.
Improving the state’s educational system is as important as funding it. Nearly half of all low-income children eligible for early learning are not getting it. About half of all high-school graduates enrolled in community and technical classes needed remedial math.
The session is drawing to a close, although a special session is expected. Lawmakers must move on important reforms.