Inslee objects to school grade bill

SEATTLE — Although he endorsed the idea during his campaign, Gov. Jay Inslee says a Republican legislative proposal to give letter grades to public schools is flawed and he doesn’t support it.

The Democratic governor’s opposition to Senate Bill 5328 has surprised and disappointed Republican leaders, The Seattle Times reported in Friday’s newspaper.

“Without a doubt, it would have been much easier if the governor had maintained his position,” said state Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup. The bill narrowly passed the Senate last month but has stalled in the House.

Jaime Smith, a spokeswoman for the governor, told The Associated Press on Friday that the Republicans shouldn’t be surprised.

Mary Alice Heuschel, the governor’s chief of staff, met with Sen. Steve Litzow, Republican chairman of the Senate Education Committee, earlier in the legislative session to express concerns about the school grading bill, Smith said.

Inslee is still interested in setting up an A-F grading system for schools, but the details are important, Smith said. He wants to make sure Washington uses the right criteria, gets stakeholder input and gives schools enough time to prepare.

“One way or another, we’ll move forward on this,” she said. “Whether it’s a bill or whether it’s the governor directing the Student Achievement Council and State Board of Education to work on this during the interim.”

Under the Republican proposal, a school grading system would start in a pilot program this fall and be based on test scores, graduation rates, college readiness and other factors.

Among the governor’s opposition to the bill was the fast turnaround, Smith said.

The state Board of Education and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction have been working on a school grading system called the Achievement Index for several years. One of the main differences between the two ideas is the letter grades would replace labels like “struggling.”

The grading schools bill was a centerpiece of the Republican education reform plan. Other education bills approved by the Senate this session are also hitting the skids in the House. Reform bills sent in the other direction also have faced opposition.

Senate Republican leaders have said they will make the grading schools proposal a priority during end-of-session budget negotiations.

“We’ll be looking at investing something like $1 billion in our schools,” said Litzow, R- Mercer Island. “With that kind of investment, we need to ensure that we get outcomes for students.”

The bill is inspired by a similar system implemented in Florida by then-Gov. Jeb Bush in 1999.

Bush has since founded the Foundation for Excellence in Education to push his policy ideas. School-grading laws now exist in 11 states, according to the foundation.

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Information from: The Seattle Times, http://www.seattletimes.com

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