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State education legislation gets mixed reviews

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson is calling the 2004 legislation "...a major win on behalf of Washington students."

One key piece of legislation, HB 2195, will be especially beneficial to Lower Valley students, according to Mabton Superintendent of Public Schools Kevin Chase and Ruben Carrera, executive director of school and community resources for the Sunnyside School District.

The legislation allows student to have at least four opportunities to retake portions of the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) by the time new graduation requirements take effect for the class of 2008.

"Retakes for the WASL is going to be helpful for many of the youngsters here in Sunnyside," said Carrera.

He added that a recent federal decision makes it so that students who don't have English as their primary language and aren't enrolled in school continuously don't have to take the WASL. Carrera said they will be encouraged to take the state test, but their scores will not count against the schools.

Chase added that allowing students to take the WASL more than once is "a good thing."

The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction is also authorized to more ahead with plans to design an additional assessment option for students who have the necessary skills, but experience difficulty demonstrating those abilities on the WASL.

Also approved by the legislature was SB 6311, which will allow districts to set their levy base using the amount they would have collected if I-728 and 732 had been fully funded.

Touted as a financial boost to many school districts, Chase said the legislation won't help students in the Lower Valley at all.

"We never ask for the full amount we can levy," said Chase, adding that most schools in the Lower Valley don't ask for full levy funding.

"The only people that are going to benefit are those in rich districts like Bellevue and Mercer Island, where people live who can afford the full levy," said Chase.

Carrera agreed that the levy changes wouldn't help small, impoverished districts.

Chase added that there was an effort to do away with levy equalization, which allows small districts to receive the same amount of money as larger districts. He said there has already been an effort to cut funding to schools. Last year about 7 percent was cut, and it was not reinstated this year.

"We don't know the full fiscal effects of the new legislation," said Chase.

Also part of the legislature were policy bills that are expected to enhance the overall health and safety of students. The bills deal with preventing and resolving sexual misconduct cases, enhancing physical activity and improving student nutrition. There will also be increased access to school meals for low-income students and helping prevent child abduction.

Changes were also made to the state's Learning Assistance Program (LAP). LAP funds can be used for programs for 11th grade students and starting in 2008 they can be used for 12th grade students under the new rules.

"They used to limit the grades that could be served by the LAP," said Chase. He is unsure of how the expansion will affect school budgets.

Also approved, after a decade of failed attempts, was the authorization of 15 new charter schools over the next three years and 45 over the next six years.

"This issue has been very contentious among education, legislators and our community for years, with both sides raising legitimate concerns and feelings," said Bergeson. "But now that this legislation has passed, we will do the very best we can to make this a positive opportunity for the benefit of students and their families."

"Charter schools, I think are a bad deal," said Chase. "They're creating a class and school with less regulations under the idea that with less regulations students should do better. Then why don't they give us less regulation?"

Chase said the $67 million the state expects to spend for charter schools would go a long to helping students with such things as driver's education.

"What I wish they would have passed is low income driver's education funding," said Chase. "Our Valley's going to have a lot of teens out there driving without licenses."

He added that changing the vote on school issues to a simple majority, rather than the 60 percent currently required, would have also been beneficial to schools.

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