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Originally published March 6, 2013 at 9:24 PM | Page modified March 6, 2013 at 9:24 PM

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State Senate passes package of education policy bills

Bills approved Wednesday by the state Senate — unlikely to win approval in the House — would give an A-F grade to schools, let principals veto teachers assigned to their school and require more intervention for 3rd-graders who fail the state reading test.

Seattle Times Olympia bureau

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OLYMPIA — The state Senate approved nearly a dozen education bills Wednesday, including a few that narrowly passed over strong opposition from minority Democrats.

The package, a priority of a mostly-GOP coalition that took control of the Senate this session, is aimed at spotlighting low-performing schools, giving principals more power over personnel and challenging students to improve.

Democrats agreed with several of the ideas but derided others as simplistic distractions from the Legislature’s top goal of fully funding education.

The bills now move to the Democratic-run House, where passage is far less likely. House leaders generally maintain the state should increase funding before making more policy changes.

Still, supporters framed “education day” as a major victory.

“This package is a targeted first step toward recreating an education system capable of preparing our students for the current job market,” Senate Education Committee Chairman Steve Litzow said after the seven-hour, occasionally heated debate.

Litzow, R-Mercer Island, sponsored two of the most contentious bills: to give A-F letter grades to schools and to give principals a veto in teacher placements.

The grading, which passed 26-23, is touted as a way to give parents more information and pressure schools to improve. Opponents say it is blunt instrument for a complex problem.

“Giving letters makes great headlines,” said Sen. Nathan Schlicher, D-Gig Harbor. “It doesn’t actually make great policy.”

The principal veto, which passed 27-22, is meant to prevent poorly-performing teachers from getting passed from school to school. Opponents say it would make arbitrary personnel moves easier.

Four Democrats — Medina’s Rodney Tom and Potlatch’s Tim Sheldon, of the majority caucus, and Raymond’s Brian Hatfield and Lake Stevens’ Steve Hobbs — supported both measures.

One Republican, Kirk Pearson, of Monroe, opposed the letter grades.

Democrats sought to derail both bills through amendments. When those failed, they repeatedly spoke against the proposals.

“What are we doing here?” asked Tacoma Democrat Steve Conway at one point.

Democrats did amend the grading bill to give more funding to “F’ schools.

They also amended a bill setting up an intervention system for third-graders who fail the state reading test. The proposal would have required the children to repeat the grade or attend summer school, but the amendment allows for another “intensive remedial program.”

After the amendment, the bill passed 35-13.

The Senate also approved automatically placing students who pass the state test in any subject into a more advanced class, among other proposals.

Republicans delayed until Thursday a vote on a proposal that adds funding to the lowest-performing schools in exchange for major school-operations changes.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 360-236-8267 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com.

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