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Thursday, May 17, 2012 - Page updated at 03:30 p.m.

Guest columnist
Education reform in Washington: Promising new policies await adequate funding

By Rosemary McAuliffe
Special to The Times

I AM proud of the education reforms Washington state has accomplished in recent years — many widely supported by business, teachers, parents and advocacy groups. Each step forward represents collaborative progress that has been tested in the classroom. The research has been done, the laws have been passed. Now, we need to fund the reforms so every child has a high-quality education.

Nowhere is this message clearer than the recent state Supreme Court decision that calls for at least $1.5 billion more a year for K-12 education by 2018. Along with inflation and six years of pent-up demand for salary increases, this could cost $8.3 billion per biennium beyond the current budget.

Gov. Chris Gregoire recently said Washington cannot fulfill its education responsibilities without new revenue. I couldn't agree more. No amount of shifting state dollars or slashing health and human services will free up the kind of money needed to fully fund the reforms our kids deserve.

Unfortunately, our state has a chronic history of passing reforms, without funding them. With education as our paramount duty, we need the public's support of new funding to achieve full implementation.

Beginning in 1992, the landscape of educational expectations in Washington changed. House Bill 1209 identified the skills our students need to graduate prepared to enter the college of their choice. Unfortunately, we did not fund the necessary teacher professional development to go with it.

In 2009, the Legislature recognized the expanding demands on students and made the biggest changes to basic education and its funding formula in more than 30 years. House Bill 2261 enhanced the definition of basic education and created a more transparent school-funding formula. The planning and phase-in have already begun.

In 2010, the Legislature followed up with House Bill 2776, which established the numeric values for the new funding formula and identified phase-in dates for increased funding.

Also in 2010, we broadened the scope of education reforms to include the early-learning needs of our littlest learners. Research shows that children who are enrolled in quality early-education programs are less likely to fail grades, require special-education services or become involved in the criminal-justice system. House Bill 2731 lays out a timeline to expand our state's preschool program to at-risk children.

Additionally in 2010, Senate Bill 6696 paved the way for a new teacher/principal evaluation system and increased accountability. The evaluation pilot projects have been hard at work since, creating a system that will provide meaningful feedback to improve every principal's and teacher's performance.

Based on the work of these pilots, this year 65 districts created a new evaluation system. That's nearly one-third of our school districts moving in the right direction in less than two years. This session, Senate Bill 5895 passed, establishing greater detail for the four-tier teacher/principal evaluation system and keeping the system on track to go statewide by 2015-16.

Today's most-lucrative careers involve science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects. Washington ranks second in the national innovation economy, but graduates far too few STEM students to meet demand. We have passed legislation to enhance STEM curriculum and support innovation schools and partner with businesses to give students hands-on learning to become mathematicians, scientists and engineers.

While our education-reform efforts over the past 20 years have defined the expectations for our educational system, the recent McLeary decision confirmed that the promise of resources to support these reforms has gone unfulfilled. We must now find the funding to support imperative education reforms so every child has a high-quality education.

Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, is chair of the Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee

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