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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