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Saturday, February 4, 2012 - Page updated at 08:30 p.m.
Democrats' dispute on charter schools stalls state education bills
By Mike Baker And Donna Blankinship
The Associated Press
OLYMPIA — Two bills to reshape Washington's education system stalled in committee Friday, missing a key deadline amid a dispute among Democratic lawmakers.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, said education committee chairwoman Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, refused to allow a vote on measures related to charter schools and teacher evaluations, but McAuliffe disagreed with the description of their quarrel.
McAuliffe said she opposes the charter-school bill and will not allow it to pass out of committee, even though she acknowledged it would have the votes to do so.
She said the seven members who support the measure — two Democrats and five Republicans — have told her they won't take a vote on anything if she won't allow the charter-school bill to go forward.
"They're holding all of us hostage, and that angers me," McAuliffe said. She said she is not blocking the teacher-evaluation bills or other education measures.
Business groups have been pushing the bills, and moderate Democrats have signaled they want to see such reforms approved before considering new taxes. Tom accused McAuliffe of simply following the requests of teachers unions and failing to consider the impacts on students.
"She doesn't want real education reform in Washington state," Tom said.
McAuliffe said she and Tom have been negotiating for weeks and have not been able to come to an agreement on this issue.
"I have told Senator Tom I will compromise on these bills," she said. "They have not moved one inch."
She promised the teacher-evaluation proposals would not die.
"We will be able to pull this teacher-evaluation bill up. It's that important. It's important to the governor. It's important to us, to the members of my committee," she said.
McAuliffe said she does not endorse charter schools because they have a mixed success record across the country and because she said Washington needs to focus on fixing the way it pays for its existing school system, not experiment with new ideas.
Tom said a heated discussion over the issue hosted by Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, failed to resolve the disagreement Friday morning.
Brown said there isn't support within the Democratic caucus for the charter-school bill, but that Tom and Republican Sen. Steve Litzow said nothing would pass out of the committee unless Tom's charter-school and evaluation bills were approved without amendments.
"It's never going to work in the Senate to say 'my way or the highway,' " Brown said.
Brown said the teacher-evaluation bills, one sponsored by Tom and another supported by Gov. Chris Gregoire, are still on the table.
Friday marked a key deadline for policy bills to pass out of committee, but Tom said he hopes lawmakers can find other ways to resurrect the efforts later, and Gregoire also indicated the issue was not over.
"Education reform is too important to our children and to our future, and I'm not giving up," Gregoire said.
The charter-school bill is complex. It would allow public charter schools in Washington and create a new statewide school district to be used to take over failing schools and operate them like independent charters.
If the bill becomes law, it would allow up to 50 charter schools in the state, with 10 of these alternative schools established each year.
Two similar, but not identical, teacher-evaluation bills would require school districts to lay off teachers according to their performance evaluations, instead of the current system that focuses mostly on seniority.
The measure would also make some changes in a statewide revamp of the way teachers are evaluated. Previous legislators set that process in motion.
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