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State task force recommends major changes in education

Accountability, equal funding, performance incentives part of new plan.

Major changes are in the wind for basic education in Washington as the Basic Education Joint Finance Task Force presents its recommendations to the state Legislature when the 2009 session begins Jan. 20 in Olympia.

Bremerton School District Superintendent Bette Hyde, who served on the task force along with several state legislators and other education leaders in the state, presented the group’s findings at the Washington Parent Teacher Association Region 1 meeting Tuesday at the Norm Dicks Government Center in Bremerton.

“The last time any group looked at this was 35 years ago,” Hyde told the group. “This is the opportunity to redefine basic education.”

The task force’s recommendations are the result of “a lot of hard and good work,” and it’s important that its report not be shelved and forgotten in the future, she said.

Among the task force’s first major findings was the relationship between the state Legislature and state school districts in funding basic education, she said.

“We are supposed to educate kids and they are supposed to give us the money to do so,” she said. “It’s quid pro quo.”

The state has the responsibility to provide funding to educate every student, but currently it isn’t providing enough funding, she noted.

Another important element of the task force’s recommendations involves bringing accountability down to the school house level, she said, adding that under the proposal the state would be able to “see how Miss Hyde’s class is doing.”

Additionally, districts and individual schools which demonstrate improvement through increased student achievement would be eligible for bonuses for all staff, including administrative and janitorial staff, because it takes everyone to help students learn, she said.

Extra funding also would be given to districts based upon the percentage of low-income families because it is the best indicator of the level of need, she said.

“They are going to give you funding based upon expected outcomes and you are held accountable with results,” she said.

On the classroom level, teachers, who currently receive pay increases for master’s level credits and longevity, would be paid based upon their demonstrated teaching abilities and students’ ability to meet statewide standards, she said.

“The WASL is the standard and if you’re teaching to the standard, then you should get the results by taking the WASL,” she said, noting that the Washington Educators Association has expressed its opposition to such plans.

The task force also addressed the disparity in teachers’ pay across the state, so each district would be able to compete for teachers with a certain degree of equality, she said, noting that teachers in the Tri-Cities, Seattle and Bremerton areas make less than their college-educated peers in other fields.

Incentives also would be offered to teachers who are willing to pursue careers in math, science, bilingual education and special education through student loan forgiveness, she said.

The task force also recommended the Legislature create a new funding model for all school district staff salaries because currently the state funding doesn’t cover the actual costs, she said.

“The system is so old that we get $50,000 for a principal and we can’t hire a principal for $50,000, so that money has to come from levies,” she noted.

The task force also addressed the issue of classroom sizes and recommended that class size reduction should start in the early grades, she said.

“Classroom size should be 15-to-1 in K through 3, and the goal is to get all students reading by third grade,” she said, noting that classroom size isn’t as much of a factor after third grade.

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