This Washington

Banking on Sen. Murray to Secure $38 Million Waiver Looks Risky

Murray spokesman says there are no assurances.

By Josh Feit February 20, 2014

After the state senate failed to pass a teacher evaluation bill this week—it went down 28-19 when the Republican-dominated Majority Coalition Caucus embarrassingly misread the votes and brought it to the floor on cut-off day—there were two obvious questions.

"'Come talk to us this afternoon' blah blah blah."

First, why did the MCC run a bill that had no chance of passing? (It's one thing to run a bill and lose by a slim margin to make a righteous political stand, but this was a bona fide loser). Second, why did the Democrats—it was originally a Democratic bill sponsored by the Democratic education lead Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe (D-1, Bothell)—vote against it?

Republican sponsor Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island), admits  "I was flabbergasted" after the vote, but said he "figured we'd get six, seven, or eight [Democratic] votes" to go with the "soft 20 to 21 in my caucus." He only got one Democratic vote and seven Republicans out of 24 bailed.

Didn't he talk to the Democrats beforehand? "They came to me on Friday and asked if they could have until Monday. On Monday they came to me and said, 'well, you know, Patty Murray is in town, come talk to us this afternoon' blah blah blah."

Asked if the Democrats were Richard Sherman in that metaphor, Hobbs said Litzow needed to look at his own guys.

(The bill would have made a change to teacher evaluation guidelines that, in turn, would have made Washington state eligible for a waiver from from current federal guidelines. The Democrats were hoping that, rather than enacting the change—which the teachers' union didn't like because it would have required that statewide tests be part of teacher evaluations—Sen. Patty Murray could secure the waiver instead.)

Litzow acknowledges that "nobody on the Democrat[ic] side had ever said 'I'm voting for it,'" or "'against  it,'" he adds."Rosemary came to me Monday morning, and I said we're gonna run this, and she said we've got Patty Murray in town. Finally, we just ran it because we ran out of time."

Litzow says by Tuesday afternoon the MCC "decided to run it, and my hope was, we skinnied down the bill [Litzow took out a provision that had dictated exactly what percentage statewide student test scores would be of teacher evaluations], and it actually became Rosemary's bill [true, the bill mirrored Sen. McAuliffe's original bill to simply make state test scores part of the evaluations]."

"Although Senator Murray can’t offer any blanket assurances that the waiver will be granted, she is committed to continuing to advocate for its extension..." —Patty Murray spokesman Sean CoitLitzow was also counting on the fact that if the state didn't get the waiver, we stood to lose $38 million in direct school district funding ... "$2.4 million for Seattle, $800,000 for Spokane," he says. "I figured six or sever or eight Democrats, the supposed moderates, the ed reform guys, would vote for it, but the WEA [the teachers' union] locked them down, and they all went 'no'."

Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-44, Lake Stevens), who typically votes with the Republicans against the teachers union for "ed reform" bills voted against Litzow's legislation—which was co-sponsored by MCC leader, Sen. Rodney Tom (D-48, Medina). Hobbs tells PubliCola that he heard from school superintendents in his district that the bill was moving too fast and we needed to "slow this [teacher evaluations] down." As for Litzow's risky play, Hobbs says "It was the equivalent to [San Francisco 49ers Quarterback Colin] Kaepernick's end zone hail mary and Sherman knocking it down." Asked if the Democrats were Richard Sherman in that metaphor, Hobbs said Litzow needed to look at his own guys.

After the vote, Litzow says he asked Sen. McAuliffe for an explanation. She told him she believed the congressional delegation could get the waiver.

That brings us to the second question: Why'd the Democrats vote against it. I've laid this out in previous coverage, but basically, despite sponsoring the exact same legislation at the beginning of the session, McAuliffe explained that she heard from enough local districts that statewide testing wasn't the way to go. "Local districts should be in charge of their own classrooms," she said during the floor debate.

In a formal statement after the vote McAuliffe said:

“We have always considered renewal of the waiver from No Child Left Behind to be a priority and remain committed to finding the right solution. This was not a vote against the need to retain the waiver – this was a vote in favor of a strong, functioning evaluation system. We’re happy to work with the other party, if they’re willing to work with us, as well as with the congressional delegation, to find the right solution. The session is not over and our work will continue.”

I asked U.S. Sen. Patty Murray if she could pull it off and secure the waiver from the federal teacher evaluation guidelines.

Her spokesman Sean Coit told PubliCola generically and without much swagger: "Although Senator Murray can’t offer any blanket assurances that the waiver will be granted, she is committed to continuing to advocate for its extension because she understands the impact losing it would have on schools."

Sen. Litzow says U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA, 5) told him "she couldn't imagine how anybody in congress would be able to convince the DOE [Department of Education] that Washington state was special vs. Iowa and the other sates they'd already denied."

Just this week Arkansas and Utah's requests for waivers were denied. Iowa's request for a waiver was denied earlier this year

In Januray, the Office of the Superintendent told PubliCola it seemed unlikely that the DOE would grant Washington a waiver without the change.


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