Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Spokesman-Review on Gregoire’s Priorities

A good article from the Spokane Spokesman-Review ($) on where the budgeting process might go once the legislature gets back to work in January:
Gov. Chris Gregoire said Thursday that she'll recommend "significant" spending on educational reforms over the next two years, but said she plans to do it without increasing taxes.

"I'm not into taxes," she told reporters. "I'm looking at what we have now and why we can't fund better … and use some of our new increased revenue that we have and invest it."

A state panel called "Washington Learns" on Monday recommended a wide-ranging list of education changes needed to make the state's students globally competitive. It's a good time for change – state budget experts now expect the state's healthy economy to dump an extra $1.5 billion into state coffers by 2009.

"It's up to me now, in crafting my budget, to make a down payment that's significant," Gregoire said. She didn't specify numbers, but listed several immediate priorities:

•Starting to phase in all-day kindergarten in areas of the state with well-developed early learning programs.

•Spending more on math and science learning.

•Shrinking class sizes, particularly in kindergarten through third grade.

•Improving teacher pay.

•Developing a statewide math curriculum, instead of the "296 or more" curricula now picked by local school officials.

"We've tried the local control there, and it has failed," she said. Among the evidence she cited: 40 percent of community- and technical college students need remedial math classes.

In Spokane, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson laid out several of the same themes Thursday during her annual "state of education" address to more than 1,000 school board members and superintendents. Bergeson said the 56-page Washington Learns report found no "silver bullet" for schools. But she said it shows the state is moving in the right direction.

Gregoire, whose budget will be released in mid-December, said she can't yet be more specific about her proposed school spending.

"I met with my Cabinet a week ago Monday," she said. "And I said to all of them I respect your (budget) requests, but you need to understand my No. 1 priority is education."

School officials, gathered in Spokane for the annual Washington State School Directors' Association conference, said they're eager to see what "down payment" means.

"I think we have some tough choices to make," said Spokane Public Schools board member Christie Querna.

Gregoire said she'll also call for policy changes when lawmakers gather in Olympia in January. Likely proposals include:

•Creating a learning assessment for all incoming kindergarteners, to ensure that they don't fall behind.

•A 7 percent cap on college tuition increases.

•A new statewide science curriculum.

Bigger changes lie ahead, the governor said. Within a year, Washington Learns will recommend ways to measure which learning programs work best. And by December 2008, the group will suggest changes in educational funding. Critics have said the timeline is way too long, considering that children's futures are at stake. Gregoire's response is that taxpayers will only pay for a wise investment.

"Until they know where their dollar goes and that they're getting return on investment," she said, "they're highly unlikely to invest more money."

In Spokane, Bergeson laid out a four-step plan that includes solving the mathematics problem, creating a graduation policy that will not deny students diplomas because of struggles with math, more support for teachers including incentive pay and professional development, and increases in school funding.

"If we are serious about excellence, we need to reward excellence," Bergeson said. "If we are serious about personalizing education, we need to pay for it."

She said her budget request to Gregoire and lawmakers will include $35 million for a professional development system, where teachers would have access to training at nine education service districts.

The state superintendent also said more state money needs to be spent on math coaches, and providing teachers with pay incentives, like stipends for National Board certification.

Bergeson acknowledged one problem with the state's reform plans: No matter how fast math changes come, "it won't be fast enough for many of the kids in the Class of 2008."

Nearly half of this year's juniors failed the math portion of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning last spring. Passing the WASL is a requirement for graduation starting in 2008.

While WSSDA has said it supports delaying the math and science requirements, Bergeson said she does not.

Some thoughts:

  • Washington Learns is a shotgun report with innumerable recommendations that all cost money, so the way they prioritize will be important.
  • I don’t really understand what the point of having an assessment for the incoming kindergarteners would be. They’re pretty much assumed to be starting at zero anyway, and what are you going to do if a kid doesn’t pass the test? Further, there will be those people who spin this as “WASL for Kindergarteners!”, and that’s not good PR.
  • A seven percent cap on college tuition increases still makes the GET program a hell of an investment.
  • It's interesting to see Terry Bergeson, former president of the WEA, pushing for merit pay.
  • We’re already sort of moving towards a statewide science curriculum with LASER taking hold.

Hooray education policy!


Blogger The Science Goddess said...

Considering our district just laid out a few hundred thousand dollars on science curriculum materials, I'm not terribly excited by the idea of a state curriculum in science. Districts might not need 296 ways to get kids to standards...but they need more than one.

7:20 PM  
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5:16 AM  

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