Early this week, the Washington Education Association sent out an e-mail hailing "the school funding bill that actually funds schools" --a reference to legislation just

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Will the Real School Funding Bill Please Stand Up?

Early this week, the Washington Education Association sent out an e-mail hailing "the school funding bill that actually funds schools" --a reference to legislation just proposed by Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe and a not-so-subtle dig at a sweeping education reform bill introduced the week before by Sen. Fred Jarrett. The state teachers union has been actively lobbying for McAuliffe's bill and against Jarrett's, according to WEA spokesperson Rich Wood. "We had 100 [teachers] down here meeting with legislators the other day," Wood says, adding that many more have been e-mailing and calling Olympia.

Both bills purport to invest dramatically more money in public schools. But the WEA argues that Jarrett, a Republican-turned-Democrat from Mercer Island, fails to identify a funding source in his bill. At the same time, Wood says, it calls for "radical changes to everything from teacher certification and compensation to student accountability" --changes that he argues are a distraction from schools' pressing financial problems. The truth is, though, that McAuliffe, a Bothell Democrat and longtime ally of the teachers' union, doesn't identify a funding source in her bill either. She says she had one in (that being property taxes), but took it out at the last minute in response to other senators' concerns. It turns out, too, that her bill is more of a tactical device than a real attempt to pass legislation.

"The impetus behind my bill is that there were some things that I disagreed with in (Jarrett's Bill) 5444," McAuliffe says. So she intruded her bill as a "vehicle" to get changes to that bill. She adds that she fully expects the two bills to merge after discussion with all the players, including the teachers' union. One of the big sticking points is sure to be Jarrett's proposal to evaluate teacher performance and create a new salary structure that eliminates extra pay for Master's degrees.

Still, McAuliffe agrees with Jarrett that this is the best chance in many, many years to pass a school funding bill. Although the economic crisis will actually entail cuts to education spending this year, the senators see a new political momentum behind laying out a funding framework for the coming years, once we get passed the recession. McAuliffe points out that Jarrett's bill built upon 18 months of work by a committee that included an array of legislators. "We've tried so many times in the past," she says. "We've never gotten this far."

 
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