K-12 education reform underway in Olympia

State Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, and State Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, have filed a bill that would require school districts to use evaluation ratings in determining which teachers are laid off when budget cuts or enrollment declines force teacher layoffs.

If the bill becomes law, the strict seniority rule of “last in, first out” currently used in reducing staff when revenue declines would be ended.

A recent study by the University of Washington Center for Education Data & Research pointed directly to this practice as inefficient economically and educationally.

“When we lay off newer teachers who have proven their effectiveness in the classroom, we are not only denying today’s students access to a quality learning experience, but future students as well,” said Tom.

“We can all agree that we must work to ensure the best teachers stay in the classroom,” Litzow said. “The loss of teachers for fiscal reasons results in bigger classes and that alone impacts student learning.”

Under Senate Bill 5399, teachers laid off first are those who received the lowest evaluation rating when averaging their two most recent evaluations. Additional layoffs would occur by moving upward through the two-year average ratings. Ultimately, the teachers with the best evaluation average would be the last to lose their teaching posts.

The minimum standards for teacher evaluation are set by the Legislature in RCW 28A.405.100.

Currently, when teachers have identical ratings, the preference for contract renewal must be given to the teacher with the most experience.

SB 5399 sets out how two-year averages must be calculated, provides an appeals process for teachers who do not get their contracts renewed and requires teacher and principal agreement on staffing placements.

Education reform efforts continue with Rep. Marcie Maxwell’s (D-Renton) introduction of House Bill 1443, which outlines ways to implement a new funding system for public schools.

“Education remains our state’s priority and our link to Washington’s thriving future,” Maxwell said. “Despite these tough economic times, we must maintain our commitment to providing a quality education program for all Washington students.”

In 2009, the Legislature approved House Bill 2261, a bill with a 10-year plan for transforming the state’s K-12 basic education funding system. Last year, the Legislature approved House Bill 2776, which authorized the first steps for implementing the new funding system. Rep. Maxwell was a co-sponsor on both of these bills.

House Bill 1443 also includes:

• Delivering assistance to districts and schools to help develop strategies to reduce dropout rates.

• Incorporating the use of kindergarten readiness assessment to prepare young children as they enter the K-12 system.

• Identifying methods for recruiting and retaining diverse teachers and teachers in science, technology, engineering and math.

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