Legislators produce mixed results for education

Puyallup: Administrators brace for cuts to funding but embrace change in graduation credits

of the HeraldMarch 26, 2014 

The Puyallup School District will take the good with the bad following the 60-day legislative session that ended just shy of midnight on March 13.

The good news was the approval in both the House and Senate of Senate Bill 6552, which sets the minimum requirement for credits for high school graduation statewide at 24, a change from the existing 20.

The bill, co-sponsored by Senator Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, authorizes the State Board of Education to implement the 24-credit graduation model statewide so that students who graduate in 2019 will move on to a career or post-secondary education with what policymakers have called a “meaningful high school diploma.”

“This came from a realization that, for our students to have maximum opportunities for their future, they needed a more rigorous education than what we were currently giving them,” Dammeier said. “There are good jobs in health care, aerospace and technology that require more math and science than we had previously in our graduation requirements. So, this is about making sure that our students are equipped and prepared that they can take advantage of those great jobs.”

Meanwhile, many school districts statewide, including Puyallup, will be impacted with the state’s dropping of the No Child Left Behind waiver, which protected $44 million in flexible federal funds for low-income students, according to Stand for Children Washington.

The state is at risk of the federal government revoking its waiver because state law currently instructs districts they “can” use state tests in teacher evaluations, not that they “must.” The federal government wants Washington to require state tests as one of the measurements of student growth, Dammeier said.

“I think we absolutely should’ve passed that change,” Dammeier said. “We will now be subject to that law. We won’t have the waiver.”

Dammeier said two things will happen: many districts will lose flexibility of 20 percent of Title 1 money that helps the most disadvantaged students and districts will be found under current law as failing, and letters will be sent home to parents that address it.

Dammeier said that funding will only be available for transportation and tutoring.

“This not only costs the districts a lot of money to mail, but it’s also not an accurate statement,” he said. “We have some good schools that are doing fabulous. This is because of a bad federal law. It doesn’t provide good information to parents and does a disservice to teachers and principals who are working hard.”

In the Puyallup School District, schools that have at least a 35 percent free or reduced lunch student population receive Title 1 funding. Nine school buildings next school year will be served by Title 1 funding, said Kathy Ehman, chief special services officer.

Ehman said the PSD is waiting on direction from Arnie Duncan, the Secretary of Education.

“We’re hoping to get an answer within the next few weeks,” Ehman said. “For some districts, they may have to reduce staff. To reduce staff, we must let them know by May 15.”

Another tricky part for Ehman and her staff is the process of building a budget for next school year not knowing what funding will be available. Ehman anticipates the district is at risk of losing control of $500,000, which would be made available for student services.

Ehman said schools that don’t meet adequately yearly progress will be required to send a letter to parents before the start of the school year, informing them of the option to send their child to a school that is.

“Transportation is provided at district cost,” Ehman said.

Meanwhile, Puyallup administrators say the increase to 24 credits for graduation is an encouraging prospect, and some students already are reaching 24 credits and beyond.

“We went and looked back at our data and found that 71 percent of our graduates in 2013 graduated with 24-plus credits,” said Chrys Sweeting, assistant superintendent of instruction and learning. “If you look at over the last three years, we have progressed in the number of graduates that graduated with 24-plus credits. So, we’re heading in the right direction.”

Sweeting said the district’s leadership team and the school board have discussed formulating what a 24-credit framework may look like in the future.

“The goal will be to set in motion to make sure that this is achievable for all of our students,” Sweeting said.

Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at andrew.fickes@puyallupherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.

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