State House Speaker Frank Chopp and Education Chairwoman Sharon Tomiko Santos should work to ensure the state regains control of about $40 million in federal money to help academically struggling students.
Losing control of around $40 million of federal funding might not seem like much in a state that spends more than $10 billion per year on public education. But it has made a difference on the margins for academically struggling students throughout the state.
When the Legislature failed to enact a simple change in the law last year, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan made good on his threat to yank the state’s waiver under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which meant public schools would be penalized for not meeting federal benchmarks for progress. As a result, the U.S. Department of Education withheld around $40 million in Title 1 funds last fall from Washington schools. Some of the effects:
• For the Tacoma School District, 17 educators were lost.
• In Wapato, it meant half a year of not providing intervention services for struggling students — services that have helped the district’s high school graduation rate rise dramatically.
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• In the Franklin Pierce School District, south of Tacoma, the district couldn’t hire four new learning specialists to work one-on-one with students and professional development for teachers was cut.
• In Seattle, schools lost access to $1.3 million for services to bring kids up to proficient levels of math and reading.
Last year, state senators voted down a bill to change state law to require that student test scores play some role in teacher evaluations, so Washington lost its waiver — and remains the only state in that category.
The schools deemed “failing” under NCLB — 92.5 percent of Washington schools — had to set aside a portion of their Title 1 funds to pay for transportation if students transferred to another school or for private tutoring. Much of the set-aside money went unused and what’s left was released to the districts in the spring — too late to hire more staff or to help students who struggled in the fall. Five months for a second-grader struggling with reading can cause the student to fall further behind and have longer term consequences for academic success.
Last week, the state Senate passed ESSB 5748 and SB 5749, which makes using test scores in teacher and principal evaluations mandatory — although wide latitude for application remains. Now the bills go to the state House.
All eyes are on House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, and the House Education Committee chairwoman, Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle. She reliably aligns with the Washington Education Association, which is fighting the effort.
Tomiko Santos did not hold a hearing on the bill, but should act on the Senate’s version. The full House should have a chance to vote on the bill.
Opponents argue that test scores are an inadequate tool for judging teacher performance. The proposed bill, however, gives districts wide flexibility on how to incorporate test scores into performance evaluations and only applies to teachers who teach subjects and grades that require state tests. Districts including Tacoma and Seattle already use test scores in assessing teachers.
Most educators and lawmakers, state and federal, agree that reforming NCLB is the best solution, but that could take years to happen.
In the meantime, the House should take a cue from the Senate and give the teacher-evaluations bill full consideration instead of letting political ideologies and alliances come before the needs of students.