Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Trend

From the Partnership for Learning website:
At the end of the day, these reforms are needed to ensure all Washington students receive a quality education that prepares them to succeed in college and work, and are worth implementing even if Washington did not win a single Race to the Top dollar.
From the Excellent Schools Now Coalition:
These reforms are needed to ensure all Washington students receive a quality education, and are worth implementing, even if Washington did not win a single Race to the Top dollar.

From the League of "Education" Voters:
Chasing federal money for the money’s sake usually winds up with the state budget going over a cliff. Making the changes we should be making anyway in order to give at least a few districts the chance to do things differently is the right thing. And the time is always right for that.
In the beginning the theme was that we HAD TO DO THIS because of the money and what that could mean in an era of cuts, cuts, and more cuts to the schools. Now that the money isn't adding up to the cost of the changes that the reformers want to make, the shift is to make it not about the money--instead, let's talk about change for the sake of change.

I'll post specific objections to the bill later on, but it's worth noting that the reasoning has changed. The agenda has changed. Why is that?

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Saturday, January 23, 2010

Washington Education Week #7: The Legislative Session Takes the First Turn

Tuesday put us up to day 15 of the 60 day session, which means we are 1/4th of the way through. It's a really interesting one to watch with an eye on education.

Item #1: School District Consolidation. Last time out I talked about HB2616, prime sponsored by Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia, which suggested forming a commission to look at cutting the number of school districts in the state from 295 to 150. I thought it had a better than fighting chance because Education Committee Chair Dave Quall was one of the co-sponsors, but a few days into the week he yanked his sponsorship and then pulled the bill from the hearing calendar.

The small school lobby is a surprisingly powerful one, all things considered--the Speaker of the House and the Senate Majority Leader are both decidedly suburban (Seattle and Spokane, respectively). That said, I don't see this as being a conversation that's going to go away, particularly with the JLARC study still percolating in the background.

Then there's the Senate side. In their meeting Thursday to talk about the levy equalization bills (see below) Senator Oemig pointed out just how much per-pupil LEA money some of our small districts get, drawing a gentle rebuke from chief WEA lobbyist Randy Parr, who pointed out that so much is of that number is based off of the property values in the districts. I haven't exactly been easy on the good Senator, but he's got a point. If the House doesn't want to go there, maybe the Senate will.

Item #2: Hans Dunshee Roosevelt's New Deal. Late last session Rep. Hans Dunshee of Snohomish County had an idea to float a $3 billion dollar ballot measure to build and green remodel schools in Washington, with an eye on job creation. State Treasurer Jim McIntire didn't like it, and the bill didn't make it through the Legislature.

Fast forward 9 months. Dunshee's back with a bill 1/4th the size of the old one ($860 million dollars), the treasurer still doesn't like it, but it did pass out of the House 57-41. Should be fun to see what happens in the Senate, particularly if it actually does add to the budget deficit the way Treasurer McIntire says it would.

An interesting angle is that Rep. Dunshee is said to be still interested in making a run at Sen. Steve Hobbs, which would instantly be one of the most watchable races in the coming August primary. Also of note: one of the few Democrats to vote no was John Driscoll of Spokane, who I've been saying is one of the most endangered democrats in Washington, particularly with John Ahern breathing down his neck. Is this no intended to burnish his credential back home?

More from the Washington State Labor Council here, the Evergreen Freedom Foundation here, the Washington Policy Center here, Republican Rep. Glen Anderson here, and Republican Rep. Norma Smith here.

Item #3: If You Ain't Got No Money Take Your Broke Ass Home. Sadly, We're Already Home. So the Governor went to the Association of Washington Business on Thursday and dropped that the $1 billion dollars of Federal money that made her second budget work is seriously at risk because of the election of Scott Brown to Senate in Massachusetts (more from the Washington Policy Center here.)

Last week when the levy bills started dropping I got a ton of celebratory texts and emails, particularly with an eye on levy equalization being preserved. I'm not convinced. Everyone is saying "Save LEA!", and no one disagrees that it is important for property-poor districts, but I've yet to see the $60,000,000 in cuts from somewhere else that would have to occur to keep LEA where it is right now. If you pass a bill that says to expand levy equalization, then don't fund it, what have you really accomplished?

Item #4: Race to a Mop, or, Cleaning Up Legislatively to Clean Up Monetarily. So here's WEA President Mary Lindquist appearing at the press conference where the Governor rolled out her bills to help Washington State qualify for the Race to the Top money; Publicola with more, including a lively comments thread, here.

Anyone who says that the WEA is a pack of obstructionists hasn't been paying attention, or like some they have an agenda. The Comprehensive Strategic Direction that President Lindquist has been rolling out is an absolute sea change in how we do education in Washington, and while Randi Weingarten gets all the press what we're talking about doing here is every bit as profound a change.

And really, it's looking remarkably easy. Take raising the provisional status of teachers from 2 to 3 years--it sounds like it's a done deal with absolutely no fuss, yet when the Governator proposed changing tenure laws in California in 2005 there was a bloody war to end all wars. Different times, different places, sure, but this is one of the long-held planks of teacher unionism.

That said, the national backlash is getting intense. The New York Times runs down the list of states having objections, and I think that could get longer before it's all said and done. Consider the backlash against health care; when you start talking about more control over your local school, is the consensus really going to be there when we get down to the end?

As a local president I'm curious to see what we'll be asked to sign, when the time comes.

See also:
  • The Washington House Democrats, here.
  • The Tacoma News Tribune, here.
  • The L"E"V, here.

  • I kinda like the brass balls here: Rick Bender of the Washington State Labor Council talking about his group's strategy for the upcoming election.

  • Garfield Minus Garfield is absolutely amazing.

  • Sen. Pam Roach is one of the biggest advocates in the Senate for gifted education funding. She's on the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. She's also one of the most universally disliked people in Olympia.

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Saturday, January 16, 2010


Because of A, B

Because it is raining, there's an article in the newspaper about the figure skating championships.

Because I'm losing my hair, Cheap Trick is popular in Japan.

Because a study is casting doubt on Head Start, we need more vouchers and charter schools.

It's simple cause and effect.

Also on charters:
So this makes being a parent much easier. If my kid flunks out, there's clearly something wrong with the school and it must be closed or replaced by a charter. At the very least, we need to fire all the staff.
That seems to be where the Washington State Board of Education is going with their reform proposal, which is a state takeover even if Board Executive Director Edie Harding wants to run away from the term. And why wouldn't she? It's a much easier sell when you go to the public and present it as the benign, benevolent State Board doing "what's best for kids" instead of them shoveling hundreds of thousands of dollars to Pete Bylsma and other highly paid contractors in the OSPI/SBE/PESB circle of friends.

There is nothing good in education right now.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Doesn't State Law Already Require We Have a Balanced Budget?

Representative Gary Alexander (R-Olympia):
Alexander also said her budget was out of balance and reiterated his call for a balanced budget amendment to the state constitution.

“If the Legislature adopted her budget today, we’d be embracing the deficit spending so prevalent in Congress and in the federal government,” Alexander said. “This is exactly why our state needs a constitutional amendment requiring a balanced budget. The temptation for continued deficit spending is too great for some to resist.
Many blast away at Governor Gregoire for saying during the 2008 campaign that the state didn't have a deficit, but she was technically correct: a projected deficit is not the same as a real deficit. Right now, the state doesn't have a deficit--there's a projected $2.6 billion dollar hole, which is the big kerfuffle of the season, but not an actual hole (see: California) yet.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Your Weekly Liv Finne

Watch it here. To the best of my knowledge there isn't a statewide policy about promotion or retention--that's why you see policies diverge so widely from district to district. Additionally, the research base on retention says that it doesn't work, so it's an unfortunate viewpoint to put forward.

I've retained kids. If you think that a test on a day can or should determine whether a child should be in the next grade or not, you don't know kids.

There's also her slam of Head Start as a "daycare program", which is uncalled for.


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Monday, January 11, 2010

The Washington State Senate Republicans on YouTube

They're off to a great start with what they're doing. It's nice to see that sort of interactivity.

Now, if Senator Morton gets back to podcasting, I'll be happy!

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Our Beloved Governor

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Washington Education Week #6: The Calm Before the *hitstorm

The Washington State Legislature gets back to work tomorrow. It's expected to be a bipartisan affair where tough budget decisions are made in a spirit of teamwork and cooperation, where the needs of the individual are pushed aside so that the needs of the state can be fully shriven to the benefit of the citizens that make the Evergreen State great.

Nah, just kidding! Think crabs in a bucket, or out-of-control toddlers. Think out of control toddlers in a bucket with crabs. That's actually probably pretty close to the reality.

Item #1: School District Consolidation and Levy Equalization. It's looking like Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia is the guy who's going to be the grinch that finally brings this conversation to the forefront. The money quote:
"It's a terribly hot issue. But I don't think we can justify having 295 school districts," Hunt said. "If you want to save money, I think this is one way to do it. It sets up a commission."
Rep. Hunt's proposal to get it done is HB2616, which would establish a commission to look at cutting the number of school districts in the state from the current 295 down to 150. Looking it over I like how he's written it--there's a lot of public involvement, and the bill just commits to the conversation, not the eradication of school districts. Whenever it comes up before the House Education Committee (and given that Rep. Dave Quall, the committee chair, is a co-sponsor, you can bet that it will) I'll have to try to make the trip over and watch the proceedings.

Another piece to keep an eye on is the School District Cost and Size Study that the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Committee (JLARC) has started work on this year. Their final report is due in either May or June, which means that this is an effort that could really work hand-in-glove with what Rep. Hunt is proposing.

The practical impact, then, is that Eastern Washington newspapers like the Yakima Herald-Republic can host superintendents and write angry editorials until they're blue in the face, but if small school advocates aren't willing to look at every cost--including the cost of their very existence--then they're ceding the moral high ground to folks like Governor Gregoire who can now go out and say "Look, I wanted to save levy equalization, but we can't poor more money into those districts without knowing that it's worth it, yadda yadda I hate this budget."

Item #2: If the State Doesn't Want to Raise Tuition, Let the Colleges Do It To Themselves. An interesting idea wandering around Olympia is to allow the University of Washington the power to set its own tuition prices. It's come up before and never really gone anywhere, but maybe this is the right economic climate for something to happen.

Item #3: Things That Only the Shadow Knows. On one hand, you've got budget director Victor Moore saying that we can't change union contracts.

On the other, you've got Amber Gunn of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation with the contract language; her reading is that the state can re-open should revenues decreased.

What's the education angle? Idaho, where school districts are declaring fiscal emergencies and reopening their teacher's contracts. Numerous small districts here in my area have given back pay and benefits, and as my local president I might end up leading my people that way as well.

You might be surprised at how many teaching contracts have language related to financial conditions. An example:

The following instructional load standards are established except for traditional large group instruction classes, such as music, K-6 physical education, team teaching and special education programs for which state standards are prescribed, and except when the District because of financial crisis (such as levy failure) has significantly less money for the instructional programs than it traditionally has.
The trick is that these things have to be collectively bargained, but that is also as it should be. Some districts are overstaffed at the administrator level, and demanding that the cuts be applied to the classified, certificated, and administrative levels is fair.

Item #4: The State Board of Education and the New Accountability Plan. This is one of those stories that I've been wanting to spend more time on. With the Bylsma Plan set to come on line soon and the Board of Education getting ready to push through legislation, this'll be something to keep an eye on. Edie Harding, the executive director of the SBE, says that it's not a state takeover. Edie Harding is a damned liar.

The trick is, like with everything going on in the state right now, there is no money. It's a happy conceit that you can make extremely troubled systems better with only existing resources, but anyone who has worked with struggling kids knows that is not true. The money quote from the article:
“Some of the lowest 5 percent have made attempts to improve and have not been successful,” said board member Kristina Mayer, an educational consultant from Port Townsend.

She said some districts have not chosen to make changes, so the state board is acting on behalf of the children in those schools.
If it sounds outrageous, it probably is. C'mon, Ms. Mayer--if there really are districts that have chosen to ignore the needs of their kids, name them.

If you want a hint of where things could go, check out the EFF's School Rankings and go to the bottom of any one of the lists, like I did with elementary schools. This isn't going to be easy.

Bits and pieces:

  • No Child Left Behind had a birthday last week. The CW is that reauthorizing the ESEA with a new name will be a high priority this year so that the DC pols have something to hang their hat on as they gear up for the mid-term elections.

  • Calculated Risk says that the reason the unemployment rate is holding steady is because a lot of people are just dropping out of the job hunt and not trying any more. Similarly, the Huffington Post says that 1-in-5 working age men is unemployed. That's scary.

  • WEA President Mary Lindquist on school funding in Washington State.

  • Offered without comment: the League of Education Voters is very proud of their recent appearance on Fox News.

  • A group called MomRising is deliving brown-bag lunches to the legislators on Monday, encouraging them to work hard on the needs of kids. This is much better than my "A Flaming Bag of Doody on Their Doorsteps" initiative.

  • I still haven't seen a good answer to the concern that privatizing the liquor stores would only make our short-term economic problem worse.

  • The Washington Budget and Policy Center on what the Governor's proposal could mean for the schools and colleges.

This week in the Legislature:

Tuesday, January 12th:
House Education Appropriations Committee, 8:30.
House Education Committee, 10:00.
House Higher Education Committee, 10:00.
Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development, 10:00.

Wednesday, January 13th:
Senate K-12 Education and Early Learning Committee, 8:00.
House Education Committee, 1:30.
House Higher Education Committee, 1:30.
Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development, 3:30.
House Education Appropriations Committee, 6:00.

Thursday, January 14th:
House Early Learning, 8:00.
Senate K-12 Education and Early Learning Committee, 10:00.
House Education Appropriations, 1:30.

Friday, January 15th:
House Education Committee, 8:00.
House Higher Education Committee, 8:00.
House Early Learning, 1:30.
Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development, 1:30.

Next time: we'll look at the Governor's State of the State address, I'll have finally digested the report coming out of the QEC, and the first 7 days of the legislature. Salud!

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Saturday, January 09, 2010

Today's Unfortunate Tweet

Amber Gunn of the Evergreen Freedom Foundation:
Fact: most politicians have never held a private sector job in their adult life. Lynn Harsh
From Lynn Harsh's biography on the EFF's website:
Lynn Harsh is Chief Executive Officer and Senior Education Fellow for EFF. She taught high school English and history and served briefly as a school principal, before leaving the field of secondary education to work in politics and eventually public policy.
I'm not exactly seeing a whole ton of private sector work in that job history, Lynn.

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Friday, January 08, 2010

Financial Literacy Poster Contest

I think I'll have my kids do something. Given the times, it make sense.

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Thursday, January 07, 2010

Splitting Hairs to Make People Feel Good

Here in the Washington State legislature we've had a bill recently introduced. 40 pages long, here's the gist of what it does:
(2)(a) The code reviser is directed to avoid all references to: Disabled, developmentally disabled, mentally disabled, mentally ill, mentally retarded, handicapped, cripple, and crippled, in any new statute, memorial, or resolution, and to change such references in any existing statute, memorial, or resolution as sections including these references are otherwise amended by law.

b) The code reviser is directed to replace terms referenced in (a) of this subsection as appropriate with the following revised terminology: "Individuals with disabilities," "individuals with developmental disabilities," "individuals with mental illness," and "individuals with intellectual disabilities."
What's the point?

I get the debate over people-first terminology, and I'm all for ridding the world of words like retard and all its derivatives. I come at this as the father of a deaf child--not a child with deafness, a deaf child--who thinks it's absolutely a waste of time and effort for us to spend more time on the label than we on real support.

Look above; my daughter's official diagnosis is developmental delay caused by gestational exposure to cytomegalovirus. She's developmentally delayed. There's meaning in that. Changing the phrasing to "child with develpmental disabilities" doesn't make her condition any clearer, it doesn't change who she is, and it doesn't change how anyone would respond to her needs. Why spend legislative time on something so meaningless?

Update (1/10): I guess the legislature can find even more ridiculous ways to waste their time.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Kim Marshall on Merit Pay

This commentary from Kim Marshall is a great run-down of the objections that many have to merit pay programs. It's an important read especially right now, where the grab for the Race to the Top cash is going to be one of the top stories in education this year.

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Monday, January 04, 2010

Words Can Not Express How Much I Love This Picture

Bellevue Teacher has Commentary in Education Week

Paul S. Sutton, an English teacher in Bellevue, wrote a commentary for Education Week's December 16th issue on issues around teacher tenure. I can't say I agree with his point, but it was good enough to get mentioned on the WEA's website. You can read it in part here.

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Sunday, January 03, 2010

Religion and Public Schools and Seattle

Now this is how you write an attention-grabbing lede:
An evangelical organization again is offering after-school Bible clubs in two Seattle elementary schools this year, part of its statewide push to convert young children to Christianity.
The comments over at the Save Seattle Schools blog are interesting; there's also a diversity of opinion to be found on the Times website.

This is also an issue at the collegiate level, as the US Supreme Court will be hearing a case soon as to whether colleges can deny recognition to religious clubs that don't allow (not just discourage--flatly don't allow) members of different beliefs. From Education Week:
“We think it’s a common-sense proposition that religious groups should be able to choose that their members and leaders will agree with their religious viewpoints,” said Kimberlee Wood Colby, a lawyer with the Center for Law and Religious Freedom, the society’s legal arm. The society has some 90 student chapters at universities across the country, most at law schools.
I agree with his common-sense proposition, but not when public money vis-a-vis tuition and student fees is involved.

I expect we'll still be having these arguments 50 years from now.

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Mayoral Control in Seattle Public Schools

So I haven't heard much lately about new Seattle mayor Mike McGinn wanting to take direct control of the Seattle School District, the way things have happened in New York and Washington D.C. My guess is that it was something easy to say during the campaign, but that the reality of running a large city is going to make the schools one of the things he passes on.

I thought of it recently after reading this quote from Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the DC Public Schools:
Ms. Rhee observed that she has what she sees as an advantage over many urban superintendents: The mayor controls the city's schools, and the chancellor answers to him, rather than having to run major policy changes through a school board.
Remember, too, that popular State Representative Ed Murray was making noise about this back in 2006.

There's no fire here; there's not even really any smoke. That said, it's something at the periphery worth keeping an eye on.

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Saturday, January 02, 2010

50 Ways to Save Money in the Education Budget (Revised and Updated)

Last month I did a post looking at the education budget passed last year. Since then the Governor has released her budget and I've come across some new ideas; this post is to aggregate the new information. Under each item I've noted how it was treated in the Governor's budget.

A nice thing about Assembly Days for the legislature last week was that you see everything that's going on around education, from the PESB to the SBE to the QEC to the OSPI. It's difficult to keep track of--I don't know, frankly, how my friend the education staffer does it--but for education wonks and education hobbyists, it's fun stuff.

Anyhow, all the conversation about cutting education makes one wonder just what could be cut. I did a little playing around with the idea in April, when things were last going to hell, but I think it's worth bringing up again.

First stop: the enacted state budget, beginning on page 123.

Idea #1: Suspend development of the new finance system. I'm not saying throw all the work that's been done away, but is there any reason that it can't sit on a hard drive at OFM for a year until things maybe start getting better? Savings: $941,000.

Governor's Budget: This amount is unchanged, which is a little odd considering that she trimmed $9,000 from what was appropriated last year. If they're already underspending, why not encourage them to keep it up?

Idea #2: Put aside the alternative pipeline programs at the PESB. These are the paras-to-teachers pipeline programs, alternative certification programs, and the conversion math teacher loans. All of them are good programs in a shortage, but we're laying people off--the market doesn't need these programs. Savings: $4,501,000 (I'm blending together subsections i and ii on page 124).

Governor's Budget: She actually went there, cutting about $2.1 million from the alternative routes programs. That said, there's also some items that she left intact (Recruiting Washington Teachers, Pipeline for Paraeducators) that are of dubious need right now.

Idea #3: Suspend the Recruiting Washington Teachers Program. Same rationale as above--it's not needed right now. Savings: $231,000.

Governor's Budget: See Above.

Idea #4: Suspend the Retooling Math/Science Educators Program. I'd be willing to bend on this if there was still a demonstrable need, I suppose, but in this economy I'm doubtful. Savings: $244,000.

Governor's Budget: See Above.

Idea #5: Suspend CEDARS. This is the new data management system, and while I really like how it's coming together and the potential it has for the future, there's no reason it can't wait for a year. Savings: $1,227,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left unchanged.

Idea #6: Don't put extra into teaching financial literacy to students. Yes, the lessons matter, but "practice what you preach" is a pretty good lesson to teach, too. Savings: $75,000.

Governor's Budget: The Governor's budget eliminated this item. Savings actualized!

Idea #7: Suspend the Interstate Compact on the Military Child. This one hurts to even suggest, because these are my kids--my school is 90%+ the sons and daughters of active duty servicemembers. The trick is that many of your school districts that serve military installations also are heavily into levy equalization money, and if this "macro" cut helps at the "micro" level, we have to do that. Savings: $45,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left unchanged.

Idea #8: Suspend implementation of SB5410 (On-Line Learning). There's no reason that this can't wait until a different year. Savings: $700,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left unchanged.

Idea #9: Eliminate Project Citizen. Good goals, not worth the money right now. Savings: $25,000.

Governor's Budget: The Governor's budget eliminated this item. Savings actualized!

Idea #10: Suspend School Safety Training. Training is important, but try to find a cheaper way. Savings: $100,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left unchanged.

Idea #11: Eliminate the School Safety Center at OSPI. This would also have the happy side-effect of eliminating another state board (The School Safety Center Advisory Committee), which fits in with where we're trying to go in streamlining government. Savings: $96,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left unchanged.

Idea #12: Cut funding for suicide prevention programs. This isn't an easy call to make. This is what the Governor means when she says that the cuts will hurt. But it's an open question as to whether the program works, and in these have to. Savings: $70,000.

Governor's Budget: The Governor's budget eliminated this item. Savings actualized!

Idea #13: No more leadership training from the Institute for Community Leadership. Savings: $50,000.

Governor's Budget: The Governor's budget eliminated this item. Savings actualized!

Idea #14: Money for the technology to make CEDARS happen. There's absolutely no reason we can't wait a year for this. Savings: $1,045,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left unchanged.

Idea #15: End the Special Services Pilot Project. They never should have started it to begin with. Savings: $1,329,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left unchanged.

Idea #16: No more money for the Washington Achievers program. Savings: $750,000.

Governor's Budget: The Governor's budget eliminated this item.

Idea #17: No more money for information about women during World War II. Being someone's pet project shouldn't make it a legislative priority. Savings: $25,000.

Governor's Budget: The Governor's budget eliminated this item.

Idea #18: Eliminate Navigation 101. It's a decent curriculum that has a lot of district support, but there's no reason we can't go back to it when times are better. Savings: $3,220,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left unchanged.

Idea #19: End dropout prevention programs. Research says this will cost us more money in the long run. Research also says that we can put a cost to this line item RIGHT NOW. Savings: $675,000.

Governor's Budget: The Governor's budget eliminated this item.

Idea #20: End the initiative to reach out to Latino families. This was a partnership with the Seattle Community Coalition of Compana Quetzal, and they're just going to have to find their own way for a year. Savings: $50,000.

Governor's Budget: The Governor's budget eliminated this item. It also cut $10,000 from last year's appropriation.

Idea #21: End the program to encourage bilingual students to go into teaching. Ideally every teacher would be bilingual. These aren't ideal times. Savings: $75,000.

Governor's Budget: The Governor's budget eliminated this item.

Idea #22: End the dyslexia pilot program. Dyslexia has turned into a catch-all for 100 other reading difficulties, and this is a need that could be better met through federal Reading First dollars, Title funds, or other avenues. Savings: $145,000.

Governor's Budget: The Governor's budget eliminated this item.

Idea #23: Stop the support of vocational student leadership organizations. I love the Future Farmers and Future Business Leaders and Future Whatever the Homemakers Are Calling Themselves Now, but they may have to find their own way. Savings: $97,000.

Governor's Budget: The Governor's budget eliminated this item.

Idea #24: End the Communities in School Program in Pierce County. It's not basic education, and if Pierce County schools really need this, that's what levy dollars are for. Savings: $25,000.

Governor's Budget: The Governor's budget eliminated this item. It also cancelled last year's $25,000 appropriation.

Idea #25: Enough of the Math/Science work out of the ESDs. My hunch is that a lot of this money is going towards LASER, which has been one of the biggest time-wasters that I've ever encountered in my 10 years in the classroom. I truly don't believe that they have their act together; this cut seems common sense. Savings: $3,355,000.

Idea #26: End support for Destination: Imagination and Future Problem Solving. They're great programs--I worked with DI for about a decade before my schedule got to busy, and I've been a DI coach--but we can't afford this. Savings: $90,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left unchanged.

Idea #27: End support for the Centrum Program at Fort Worden Park. I know nothing about this, beyond what it says in the state budget. Savings: $170,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left unchanged.

Idea #28: Halt funding of math and science coaches. This money comes out of the Education Legacy Trust, so it's not general fund money, but it's the thought that counts. Savings: $1,925,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left mostly unchanged--there's a reduction of $90,000, which equates to about 1 FTE.

Idea #29: Postpone OSPI's STEM initiative. This pays for grants for 20 teachers and staff at OSPI to supervise; now is not the time. Savings: $139,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left unchanged.

Idea #30: Cut funding for LASER. Oh, look, it's a line item just for my favorite science program! Lock the kits in a warehouse for a year and move on. Savings: $1,579,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left unchanged.

Idea #31: No leadership academy for principals and superintendents. This has been one of the Association of Washington School Principals' big projects; in fact, they recently got a nice fat sole source personal service contract with OSPI to run the thing. This is a nice idea when things are flush--we can't afford it now. Savings: $900,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left unchanged, and I'll continue to bitch about it until the budget passes.

Idea #32: Eliminate the Washington State Reading Corps. This hurts, but it has to be done. Savings: $1,056,000.

Governor's Budget: The Governor's budget eliminated this item.

Idea #33: Eliminate the Center for the Improvement of Student Learning. Savings: $225,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left unchanged.

Idea #34: Cut back on OSPI technology leadership. This is a line item for improving, monitoring, promoting, and coordinating technology; it sounds like one big support program. Savings: $1,959,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left unchanged.

Idea #35: Suspend National Boards bonuses for a year. Yeah, I said it. I have all the respect in the world for the people who go through the progress, and I believe that it's thorough--one of the most respected teachers in my district just tried and didn't get over the line, which is amazing to me. The point is that, reform efforts be damned, we simply can't afford this right now. Savings: $36,513,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left unchanged. In fact, the cost has gone up to $37,204,000, about a $700,000 increase.

Idea #36: Suspend the Local Farms-Healthy Kids program. I'm married to a farmer, and I think the state stinks when it comes to supporting agriculture most of the time, but a lot of this money went into creating yet another FTE at OSPI. Again and ideally, we'd be able to have this. Right now? Savings: $300,000.

Governor's Budget: This item was left unchanged.

Idea #37: Suspend the Beginning Educator Support Program (BEST). Here's the trick--since beginning educators are the first ones out the door in a financial crisis, is it better to support them and then fire them, or let them work? Savings: $2,348,000.

Governor's Budget: The Governor's budget eliminated this item.

Idea #38: End the state funded internship program for principals and superintendents. Right now I don't perceive that these jobs go lacking for qualified applicants, and if districts have quality candidates who they want to support as they get their internships done that can be accomplished using local dollars. Savings: $530,000.

Governor's Budget: The Governor's budget eliminated this item. Nah, just kidding--they're still in line to get their half million dollars, and that's ridiculous.

Idea #39: Lower the state funding for administrators by $1,000. Right now the state only funds about $59,000 of the cost per administrator, which is a terribly outdated formula. That said, the rest of the money comes from local funds, so let's allow local districts to make the decision: do they come up with the money, or do they ask their administrators to take a haircut? Teachers are losing the LID days, after all. Savings, based on about 5,000 school administrators: $5,000,000.

Governor's Budget: Tbis was actually my idea, so there's nothing to reflect it in the schools budget.

That's 39 ideas from the most recently enacted K-12 budget alone, and I didn't even touch everything there. Some of these may have already happened (I thought I heard, for example, that the WWII women's project didn't go through), and some of them are damnably shameful (cutting funding for Destination: Imagination would be a tragedy), but the discussion has to occur.

Next up, playing with the Personal Service Contract (PSC) listings at the OFM website. This is money already spent, but I think it drives the point home that we could be doing things differently. I've listed them as "potential savings" instead of "savings", because the contracts are already signed.

Idea #40: Teach someone at OSPI how to read blogs: In July they issued a $15,000 PSC to a Washington DC consulting firm to track what's happening at the federal level. Can no one at OSPI do that now? Isn't there some sort of education department over there that tracks these things? Potential savings: $15,000.

Idea #41: Don't pay for crap like this. "Contractor shall communicate a vision for hands-on, project-based Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (S.T.E.M.) curriculum, and promote the benefits and positive impacts of technology-rich learning environments attuned to the new digital learner." Bullshit bingo: succeed! Budget reality: failure. Potential savings: $12,000.

Idea #42: Put the Bylsma School Reform Plan on hold. Pete Bylsma's a nice guy--I've met him through WERA a couple of times--but we've already given him an awful lot of money to come up with his plan to fix failing schools, and now we're in line to give him $65,000 more. That's not OK. Potential savings: $65,000.

Idea #43: Price your meeting facilitators better. On page 38 you've got someone making $2,400 to facilitate a two day meeting. Why? Hell, that may not have even included expenses. Potential savings: $2,400.

Idea #44: Write your own damned reports. "The Contractor shall research if the two incentives for attaining National Board certification and serving challenging schools make a difference in the mobility, distribution, and retention patterns among the National Board Certified Teachers (NBCTs) compared to teachers with similar characteristics that teach in schools with similar characteristics and do not obtain this certification." There's no one on the state government payroll, be it OSPI, OFM, WSIPP, or whatever, that can do this? Potential savings: $80,000. (source)

Idea #45: No, really--write your own damned reports. "The Contractor shall analyze 2008 graduates’ course-taking patterns in high school and their enrollment in two-year and four-year colleges." Offered without comment: that particular contract went to the BERC Group. Potential savings: $30,000.

Idea #46: Avoid the appearance of impropriety. A $251,240 sole-source PSC look funny on its face--when you're giving it to the Washington Association of School Administrators, a group that's heavily involved in the consequences of the school reform debate happening right now, it's proper to raise an eyebrow.

And ideas that I can't put a cost savings to:

Idea #47: Take another look at school district consolidation. Sure, it's the same drum I've been pounding for a while, but it's being taken up by more and more states around the country. Why not take a closer look at it for Washington State? Potential savings: depends on how you do it.

Idea #48: Freeze the state salary schedule. There was a rumor running around late last session that the legislature was seriously considering this, and it just might be the right thing to do. Sure, we teachers wouldn't get our step and lane increases, but on the other hand it could save jobs and have the happy side effect we wouldn't go backwards. Potential savings: millions of dollars.

Idea #49: Don't make membership in the Washington State School Directors Association mandatory. This also came up last session, but the time is ripe to revisit it, especially since the WSSDA just put a dues increase in front of their members. The timing couldn't be worse. Potential savings: varies by district; dues depend on size, and the district would have to opt-out.

Idea #50: Take a closer look at OSPI personal service contracts. Go here and marvel at the number of $100,000+ a year contracts that OSPI is giving out to support the school improvement efforts. Sure, they're paid out of Title I Part A, but is there no room to pay some of these folks $90,000 (still more than any teacher makes!) instead of $110,000? How competitive are these grants, anyhow?

NEW Idea #51: Let school districts hire their own auditors. Apparently when a district is audited they have to use one of the state's hired hands--my financial guy says the last time we were audited we had to pay $90 an hour for the privilege. That's ridiculous--let the schools go out and find their own way to meet the mandate, and I'm betting they'll get it done a lot cheaper. Potential savings here could be in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

NEW Idea #52: Reform how we do school architecture. From commenter Sue Lani, who knows a considerable bit about architecture:
There are more cuts that could be made at the ESD staff level if we could just get the ESD's to stop offering design and CM services around the state, undercutting the private sector. Guess they need a math lesson - lower gross revenues at private companies means lower tax revenues to the state means less money for state employees. Or maybe the ESD's could start paying B&O taxes on their gross revenues like we do.

NEW Idea #53: Reform how National Board bonuses are paid.From Jim Anderson, ace teacher:
They could change the bonus from $5000 per year for 10 years to $4000 per year over 13 years, deferring the cost and saving $7.3 million immediately. Meanwhile, teachers would gain $2000 in the long term. Everyone wins.
NEW Idea #54: Begging. If every kid in the state brought in a $3 ream of paper as part of their school supplies, that would be $3,000,000 that schools could save. It's great for Weyerhaeuser, too!

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Turn Around--Every Now And Then It Reforms a School But An Awful Lot of the Time, No

The title works if you sing it to the tune of "Total Eclipse of the Heart."

The December 16th issue of Education Week has a front-pager on a recent report from the Center on Education Policy talking about school restructuring under No Child Left Behind; the upshot is that there are no miracles when you try to turn a bad school into a good one. A quote I really liked:
Replacing many staff members in an area where qualified replacements are hard to find, or in a school that lacks a widely publicized vision to help it overcome its reputaiton as a "failing school," hampered improvement efforts, according to the study.
Remember this when the State Board of Education starts pushing the Bylsma School Reform Plan through the legislature. Washington State is about to become the laboratory of education research--time will tell if that's a good thing or not.

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Friday, January 01, 2010

Why I Scream

The State Board of Education just redesigned their website. More than a billion dollars in cuts to schools last year, another $400,000,000 hit coming this year, and yet the SBE has the money to redesign their website. It reminds one of an old joke:

A little girl from Spokane is told by her parents that, because of the lousy economy, they're not going to be able to celebrate Christmas this year. With tears in her eyes she writes a letter to Santa asking him to bring her family $100 so that they can afford to have the holiday.

Oddly enough, this little girl's touching letter makes its way to Olympia and shows up on Christine Gregoire's desk. The governor is so touched by the girl's plight that she sends her $5 and tells her to keep her chin up. The girl gets the money, and writes another letter to Santa:

Dear Santa,

Thank you for the $100. Unfortunately, Olympia got their hands on it first and took off 95%.



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Where the Jobs Aren't Going To Be

Interesting list in the Spokane Journal of Business' December 23rd edition on the largest employers in Spokane County.

#1 is the State of Washington
#4--Spokane Public Schools
#5--Spokane County
#6--City of Spokane
#7--The US Government
#11--Community Colleges of Spokane
#12--Central Valley School District
#14--Eastern Washington University
#18--State Department of Corrections
#25--Eastern State Hospital
#30--Lakeland Village
#31--East Valley School District
#45--Cheney School District
#50--Washington State DOT
#55--Deer Park School District
#58--West Valley School District
#59--Medical Lake School District

9 of the top 60 employers in the county are school districts, the community colleges, or state universities. If you put them all together, you have 8,565 jobs.

Now think about the cuts that could happen--if you laid off 5% of those people, you'd have 428 more people out on the streets looking for work. This, in a county where unemployment is currently 7.9% and a state where nearly 1-in-10 people can't find a job.

I guess that's why I can't really be sympathetic to the belief expressed by some that the government doesn't create jobs; the underlying bias in that statement is that a government job isnt' a "real" job, and that's a slap in the face. And if we don't save some of these pesky government jobs, you're going to be looking at a lot of unemployed school employees slowing the recovery down even further.

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