Washington State Senator Steve Litzow (R‑41st District; Mercer Island) has introduced a bill that would assign a letter grade to public schools and school districts in the name of “accountability.” High-performing middle, junior high, and high schools would receive financial rewards from the state.
Litzow’s proposal turns on its head the policy of providing additional funding to low-performing schools with high-needs students. Schools failing to make adequate progress would be assigned an “F,” reminiscent of the much-reviled “No Child Left Behind Act” from the early years of the Bush error.
The stated goal is to infuse performance-based private-sector methods into the public sector as a reward for productivity. The result would be to increase the funding gap between the have and the have-not schools.
K‑3 schools would be graded as feeder schools, based on the grades of their middle schools. Charter schools, very small schools, and alternative schools would be exempt from the proposed grading structure.
Letter grades would be based on their “accountability index” — a measure of the increase in student achievement on statewide standardized tests — as well as the school’s reduction in student achievement gaps and, possibly, other outcome measurements. For high schools, at least 50% of the school’s grade would be based on the “accountability index” and the remainder on graduation rates, advanced coursework such as AP and baccalaureate courses, post-secondary readiness such as ACT or SAT scores and the high-school graduation rates of at-risk students.
School recognition rewards would be used for faculty and staff bonuses, additional equipment and personnel and would not be subject to collective bargaining — essentially merit pay for schools.
Schools that earn top marks would gain more control over their budgets, as provided by subsection seven of Section Two:
Each school that earns a grade of “A” under section 1 of this act or improves at least two letter grades shall have greater authority over the allocation of the school’s total state budget including apportionment funds and state categorical funds, as specified in rules adopted by the office of the superintendent of public instruction. The rules must provide that the increased budget authority remain in effect until the school’s grade declines.
The bill is cosponsored by two partially conservative Democratic senators: Steve Hobbs (Lake Stevens) and Brian Hatfield (Raymond). It also has five Republican cosponsors: Andy Hill (45th District; Redmond), Pam Roach (31st District; Auburn), Michael Baumgartner (6th District; Spokane), Bruce Dammeier (25th District; Puyallup), and John Braun (20th District; Centralia).
SB 5328 is likely to be heard in the Senate Early Learning & K‑12 Education Committee (which Litzow now chairs, following the Republican takeover of the Senate), on January 30th. The hearing will be broadcast live on TVW.
Should it pass in the Republican-controlled Senate, it is unlikely to make it through the Democratic-led House Education Committee.