As the legislative session gets underway this week, everybody's eyes are on education in the wake of the McLeary state Supreme Court decision, which orders the state to come up with vastly more school funding. Not just money is on the table, but reform, largely pushed by Republicans.
One of the most interesting ideas to surface: a state takeover of low-performing schools.
No legislation has been put forward yet. But House budget chair Ross Hunter says that the creation of a state-run district for troubled schools is a serious idea that "we need to talk about." While Republicans are more likely to go for it than Democrats, Hunter, a Bellevue Democrat, seems supportive.
"It's something we've talked about for a long time," he says. "The state needs to do something about schools that are persistently failing children." He uses the example of the African American Academy in Seattle. Although eventually closed by the Seattle School District, Hunter says, "that school failed children for decades."
"It's not like we're going to take over hundreds of schools," he continues, elaborating that the state wouldn't have the capacity to manage all of them. And he adds that a takeover might be "the last step in the process" of state intervention, rather than the first.
If such a state school district did come into being, the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction would "clearly be the responsible party," according to Hunter.
But unlike charter schools, which Superintendent Randy Dorn thinks should be under his purview, a state-run district is not a responsibility he wants. Dorn tells SW that he's looked at the research on school takeovers and it doesn't indicate dramatic academic improvement results. "It's kind of a 50/50 wash," he says.
Indeed, The New York Times reported last year that state takeovers have had "mixed results." From its article:
Emery, Calif., ended a decade of state control in September after repaying a $1.3 million state emergency loan, but Roosevelt, N.Y., on Long Island, has had persistently poor test scores in the nine years since a state takeover.
Jonathan A. Supovitz, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania, said research showed that state takeovers were more likely to improve a district's central administration and support services than classroom instruction.
Similarly, a 2002 report by Rutgers' Institute on Education Law and Policy found that "student achievement oftentimes falls short of expectations after a state takeover."