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Originally published February 3, 2012 at 3:02 PM | Page modified February 4, 2012 at 6:05 PM

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Corrected version

Washington's legislative education chairs stalled reforms to improve education

The failure of Democratic leaders in the state Legislature to move on charter schools and teacher evaluations is all the more disappointing because of the urgency for school reforms.

Seattle Times Editorial

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Profiles in courage include Rep. Eric Pettigrew, a Democrat who shares Santos' South... MORE
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STATE lawmakers are again punting on sensible education reforms.

Senate education committee chair Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, and her counterpart in the House, Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, used their gavels to doom promising legislation adding accountability to teacher evaluations and allowing a small number of charter schools into our state.

"It is discouraging that two individuals could completely block the dialogue from happening," said Ramona Hattendorf, of the Washington state PTA. "The idea of having a good evaluation and discussing how it should be used is not radical."

McAuliffe and Santos were aided by a stunning lack of political courage by all but a handful of Democrats.

Many thought the moment for true progress had come in the Senate, where the charter and evaluation bills have broad support.

But McAuliffe and the majority of her committee were at an impasse Friday. She refused to let her committee vote on a single education-reform bill, even canceling Thursday's committee meeting where votes were expected. Colleagues, led by Republican Sens. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, and Rodney Tom, D-Medina, refused to take a vote on any bill if McAuliffe refused to consider charters.

The governor spent Friday trying to broker an agreement.

It's worth reviewing what's at stake. Stronger teacher evaluations are set to go statewide in 2013 but a key ingredient, student achievement, is missing from the policy critera. Teachers like the more-robust evaluations' inclusion of individualized development plans and training to help improve their craft.

But efforts to tie them to student growth measures — including test scores — have been rejected by the teachers union and the Democrats who do their bidding. That's too bad. The credibility of the new evaluations hinges on the ability to hold teachers accountable.

Profiles in courage include Rep. Eric Pettigrew, a Democrat who shares Santos' South Seattle district, home to some of the Seattle Public Schools' neediest students. Pettigrew wrote a thoughtful bill authorizing 10 closely monitored charter schools a year. They would be run by nonprofits, focus on struggling students and could use unionized teachers. Nothing in that bill could lead anyone to think it privatized education.

Pettigrew spoke movingly at a House hearing about his academic struggles growing up in South Central Los Angeles with a single parent.

Santos was unmoved. Worried other Democrats might exhibit Pettigrew's independent streak, she refused to let the bill up for a vote. Particularly disappointing is the failure of the usually education-minded Rep. Marcie Maxwell, D-Renton, to challenge Santos.

The House committee did pass a kindergarten readiness-assessment process for elementary schools. But it failed to pass a bill to provide flexibility for school districts to redefine what counts as a high-school credit to reflect students' knowledge on a subject rather than current "seat-time" definition.

Republicans get credit for supporting Pettigrew and other reform efforts. Their walkout of an education committee meeting last week expressed understandable frustration, but it is a tactic with limited shelf life.

Students don't have time for drama. Adults must find areas of agreement and move toward politically doable solutions.

Hope for education reforms was high at the start of the session. Santos and McAuliffe let students and their families down.

Originally, this editorial incorrectly said the House passed a bill to provide flexibility for school districts to define what counts as high school credit.

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