Two minutes will change your mind about high-stakes testing

Five minutes could restore the hopes and dreams of 2,000 career and college-bound students.

By Rep. Chris Reykdal (D-Tumwater)

I hope you are spending some quality time with your friends and family this beautiful holiday weekend in the Pacific Northwest. The Legislature should have completed its work by now, but unfortunately, we aren’t finished.

If I had to guess, continued legislative squabbling is the last thing on your mind right now.

But for 2,000 high school seniors in Washington, their career and college dreams are in serious jeopardy if the House and Senate do not resolve a major problem with high school assessments.

Doing right by these 2,000 students, and the tens of thousands more in the pipeline, is why we’re still in session.

 Legislative Support Services

State Rep. Chris Reykdal with high school senior Jesus Celes. Jesus will not receive his diploma unless the Legislature approves HB 2214.

Jesus Celes, a senior at Washington High School in Tacoma, is one of those 2,000 students. He got As and Bs in his classes, worked hard, and dreams of going to college to become a police officer.

What’s holding him back? Continue reading

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Kilduff: State budget invests in public schools, cuts college tuition

OLYMPIA—The new state budget puts a record amount of new funding into our public schools and cuts college tuition without raising new taxes.

“This is a budget for the people, not the powerful,” said Rep. Christine Kilduff (D-University Place). “It’s a budget for middle class moms and dads with kids in public schools, for teachers and state employees who’ve gone year after year without a raise and for every college student struggling to pay the astronomical price of tuition. And it’s a fiscally responsible budget that moves our state, and our economy, in the right direction.”

The two-year budget puts $1.3 billion in new funding into public schools, the largest increase in education funding in state history. All college students will receive a 5 percent tuition cut in the 2015-16 school year. Students at the state’s flagship research universities, the University of Washington and Washington State University, will get another 10 percent reduction and students at regional universities will get another 15 percent cut.

The state will also invest an additional $41 million in scholarships for high-demand majors in science, technology, engineering, math and health care (Opportunity Scholarship). Additional investments are made in computer science and engineering programs at UW and WSU.

This new budget also includes historic investments in early learning while boosting all-day kindergarten and strengthens our underfunded mental health system.

While the transportation and capital budgets are not quite final, with the House and Senate needing to take a few votes on bond bills, Kilduff said she’s confident those budgets will get finished and head to the governor’s desk to be signed into law.

As for the revenue package to pay for transportation, Kilduff said she voted no because the funding mechanism for transportation – mostly a gas tax – hits working people too hard and isn’t sustainable as a way to keep our highways, ferries and mass transit running.

“The gas tax is unfair and obsolete,” Kilduff said. “It hurts average families the most, and if you look at history, gas tax revenues aren’t a smart way to fund transportation. Cars are getting better and better mileage, and hybrid and electric cars mean the downward trend for gas tax revenue will only accelerate. We need projects in the transportation plan to fix traffic gridlock, yet we also need a better way to fund transportation so working families don’t get hurt the most.”

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Gregory bill will put more qualified teachers in Washington classrooms

In the final hours of the final day of the final special session of 2015, Rep. Carol Gregory’s bill to expand Washington’s cohort of teachers with specialized skills cleared its final hurdle, passing out of the Senate with a solidly bipartisan 37-8 vote.

Gregory (D-30th district, Federal Way), a former classroom teacher appointed to fill the House seat vacated by the death of Rep. Roger Freeman, knew coming in that one of the many problems in Washington’s public school system was a shortage of teachers qualified to teach computer science, environmental sustainability, English as a second language, and bilingual and special education, among other subjects.  Her HB 1570 adds those fields to the list of specialties that currently allow teachers to apply to the Retooling to Teach Mathematics and Sciences Conditional Scholarship Program.

Formerly open only to teachers seeking endorsements in math or science, the program will now offer two-year scholarship loans of up to $4000 a year for the above areas as well.  And for good measure, it also knocks four words out of the unwieldy program title, shortening it to the Educator Retooling Conditional Scholarship Program.

“These scholarships are officially loans,” Gregory said, “but we don’t really want the teachers who benefit from them to repay them in cash.  Instead, we’re going to forgive one year of the loan for every two years that these teachers apply their new knowledge by working in a Washington classroom to educate our kids.  In the context of the state operating budget this is an almost immeasurably small investment, but it’s one that we’ll profit from every time a student learns another skill that will help them thrive in our new economy.”

Ironically, the bill was one of the first to be OK’d in the House this year, just a few weeks into the regular session, and it was the first bill introduced by the freshman legislator to do so.  It took two more successful House votes before the common-sense education reform was able to make it through the state Senate.

Under the terms of the bill, which now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee for his signature, preference for the scholarship loans is given to applicants who are veterans or National Guard members, or who are assigned to schools where students are in the greatest need of teachers who can teach in the qualifying fields.

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Statement from Rep. Carol Gregory on the operating budget

“I want to congratulate my colleagues in the Legislature, and Gov. Inslee, for producing a bipartisan, compromise budget that fulfills the state’s responsibilities in so many important areas without requiring a general tax increase.

“The good things that this budget does for healthcare, for foster children, for persons with mental illness – and their families – are tremendous.  As a former educator, of course, I’m pleased to have been able to vote for a budget that includes the largest increase in K-12 funding in the state’s history. And the investments in early learning are going to make a significant difference in young children.

“But I’m especially happy that we found a way to reduce tuition at our public colleges and universities, including our community colleges. Skyrocketing tuition costs have had a terrible impact on middle-class and working-class families.  Many students have simply had to give up their dreams of a higher education and a better job, and many others are graduating with debt loads that will weigh them down for decades.  The Legislature froze tuition last year, and this time around we were able to start chipping away at it.  I’m grateful that we were able to do so, and I challenge my fellow lawmakers to make this a continuing trend and not a one-time gesture.”

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Representative Hansen Secures Funding in Budget to Expand Kitsap County College Opportunities

OLYMPIA – The final budget agreed by the Legislature today funds three priorities secured by Representative Drew Hansen (D-Bainbridge Island): (1) new bachelor’s degrees in electrical engineering and cybersecurity at Olympic College, offered in partnership with Washington State University and Western Washington University, (2) a statewide cut in community college tuition, and (3) an expansion of computer science education.

1. New Engineering and Cybersecurity Bachelor’s Degrees at Olympic College

“Local employers like Avalara, Paladin, and the U.S. Navy need graduates in computer science and electrical engineering, and we have now funded new four-year degree programs to Olympic College so people here can train for these great jobs,” said Representative Drew Hansen (D-Bainbridge Island). Hansen, the chair of the House Higher Education Committee, worked with Olympic College, Western Washington University, and Washington State University to identify degrees that would lead to high-paying jobs in Kitsap County and then worked with the three institutions on proposals to bring those degrees to Olympic College. The House budget had funded Hansen’s recommendations but the Senate budget did not. The final budget, released today, fully funds Hansen’s recommendations.   “I’m grateful we secured bipartisan support for new college opportunities in Kitsap County,” Hansen said. Carlos Paes

Employers in Bremerton, including the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard indicate that there is an unmet need for electrical engineers. In 2010, Washington State University partnered with Olympic College to offer a Bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering. Under today’s proposal, the partnership would expand to offer a degree in Electrical Engineering.

The other proposal is to offer a Bachelor’s in Computer and Information Systems Security through expansion of a collaboration between Western Washington University and Olympic College – Poulsbo as well as Peninsula College.   Major employers around the state, and specifically in Kitsap, Jefferson, and Clallam counties have identified a need for graduates in the field of cybersecurity.

The Electrical Engineering program expects to begin with a small enrollment of 5 to 10 students in spring 2016 with the program eventually reaching enrollment of 50 students per year. The Computer and Information Systems Security program would admit 30 students per year beginning in fall 2016.

2. Community College Tuition Cut

The final budget will also cut tuition for community college students statewide, another of Hansen’s priorities. The Senate budget released in May had raised community college tuition; Hansen successfully worked with community college leaders, students, and legislators of both parties to reverse this proposal and instead secure a cut in community college tuition of over $150 for students enrolled in associate’s degree and certificate programs and over $1,000 in applied baccalaureate programs like nursing and computer information systems. “We just closed tax loopholes to pay for a tuition cut at community colleges across the state,” said Hansen. “We need to make college affordable so people have opportunities to improve their lives. This tuition cut will help Olympic College students pay for books, bus fare, and groceries as they work toward the degrees that will help them get good jobs.”

3. Computer Science Education Funding

Hansen created a new computer science education grant program to help students train for high-paying jobs in the technology industry. “We have 20,000 open computing jobs in the state right now and yet our state produces only 1,200 computer science graduates each year. Who is going to fill those jobs? Is it going to be students from China and India, or students from Bremerton, Bainbridge Island, and Silverdale?” said Hansen. “We want every student in the state to have the opportunity to learn computer science so they will be ready for high-paying jobs in the state’s technology industry.”computer science, education

Hansen’s grant program—the product of bipartisan work with Rep. Chad Magendanz (R-Issaquah) creates a $2 million public fund that will be matched by private donations. The fund will make grants to train and credential teachers in computer science, provide and upgrade technology needed to learn computer science, and engage students from groups historically underrepresented in computer science (such as girls and minority students) to educate them about computer science as a possible career path.

The final budget also maintained an earlier grant program Hansen created that provides financial support to school districts to offer AP Computer Science. “We want to get high school students excited about computer science, and we know that students who take AP computer science are much more likely to major in computer science in college,” Hansen said. “We want to expose our kids to computer science and inspire them to think about pursuing software engineering as a career.”

Rep. Drew Hansen (D-Bainbridge Island) is Chair of the House Higher Education Committee.

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