[Editor's Note: This story was originally posted Thursday afternoon (4/16 ), but thanks to the boisterous comments thread, we're moving it up.]
As we reported yesterday, the Democratic Senate in Olympia adopted the House language on the education reform bill—most notably, upgrading the definition of "Basic Education" by requiring more credits to graduate. The shorthand for the change is known as "Core 24," which means students will need 24 basic credits to get a diploma.
The Senate is currently (2:30 pm) debating the bill—mostly, rejecting GOP amendments that would stall the bill until a price tag is put on reforms.
My carpool is heading back to Seattle, so I can't stay for all the great speeches, but based on the Republican amendments, here's the obvious story that's emerging: The GOP is doing the bidding of the teachers' union.
Let me repeat that: The Republicans are doing the bidding of the teachers' union.
Indeed, the WEA, the teachers union, has adamantly opposed this bill all session for the exact same reasons that Republicans like Sen. Curtis King (R-24, Yakima) are offering amendments that, in his words of defiance, would "make sure we know the cost of what we're doing."
Sen. King's amendment was routed in a voice vote by the Democrats, who have a 31-18 advantage. The Democrats—defying their supposed allies, the WEA—argued that the bill isn't an unfunded mandate, but rather puts a stake in the ground for standards that schools will have to meet when the money is available. In short, without upgrading the definition of basic education now, the Democrats say, there will be no standards in place to guide future funding decisions.
Senate Democrats emerging out of caucus before the debate told me the votes were in place to pass the controversial bill.
However, the vote had not taken place before I left. The Republicans were still giving speeches based on teachers' union speaking points.
The Senate passed the bill 26-23. And while the House passed the bill last month, the House still has to concur with today's Senate vote because the Senate passed some amendments—like Sen. Rodney Tom's (D-48, Bellevue, Redmond) accountability amendment empowering the state to intervene in failing schools.
Mary Jean Ryan, Chair of the State Board of Education (leading advocates for the bill), said:
“We are now committed and accountable to ensuring all students leave high school, college, or work ready. After too long a wait, Washington's educational system is once again moving in the right direction."
Chris Korsmo, Executive Director of the League of Education Voters (also strong advocates for the bill), added:
“We’re one step closer to making history for one million public school kids in our state. These reforms take advantage of the latest evidence-based research to improve academic achievement for children. Early learning, stronger graduation requirements and a longer school day will better prepare our kids for school and for life."
I am waiting to hear back from the WEA for their reaction to the Senate vote.
WEA spokesman Rich Wood sent me a copy of the letter that WEA president Mary Lindquist sent to members after the Senate vote. Here's an excerpt*:
"This bill is a travesty and an insult to the education profession. The groups behind it are vested interests masquerading as concerned citizens who care for children. Yet they're denigrating and dismissing those of us who actually educate our state's children!"
The WEA released this video today (starring Tom Cruise) to blast the education bill. They're making a last-ditch attempt to turn the House against the bill—a long shot given that the House advocated for the stronger bill in the first place. Indeed, big education reform advocate, Rep. Reuven Carlyle (D-36, Queen Anne) predicts, "We will go with the Senate ed reform bill. Gov will sign it too."
Gov. Gregoire's office did tell me she will sign the bill.
*I've also included Lindquist's entire letter below the jump.
Letter fro WEA President Mary Lindquist:
I'm outraged. By a vote of 26-23, the state Senate just minutes ago passed HB 2261.
Let them hear from you!
This bill is a travesty and an insult to the education profession. The groups behind it are vested interests masquerading as concerned citizens who care for children. Yet they're denigrating and dismissing those of us who actually educate our state's children!
Contrary to what you may hear or read, HB 2261 is a bogus education "reform" bill that blames educators instead of focusing on the REAL problem facing our schools: The nearly $2 billion in cuts to K-12 and higher education.
Remember the famous movie line, "Show me the money?" Well, HB 2261 is bankrupt.
Here's the reality. The Legislature is cutting thousands of teaching and ESP jobs, slashing student programs and cutting our pay. Legislators are poised to once again overturn voter-approved I-728 (smaller class sizes) and I-732 (salary COLAs).
Let them hear from you!
HB 2261 does nothing to stop these huge cuts in education funding. Instead, HB 2261 supporters make promises about future funding, and they suggest WE'RE the problem. You see, HB 2261 calls for dramatic changes to our certification, evaluation and compensation but includes NO FUNDING. None.
Our students deserve more than overcrowded classrooms and false promises of future funding. HB 2261 now goes back to the House. Now, more than ever, your representatives need to know how much we oppose this misguided, disrespectful piece of legislation! Let them hear from you!