Why You Can’t Expect Needed Reforms in Washington State Schools

July 16, 2013-

An additional $1 billion was added to funding of Washington state schools in the 2013 legislative session for a total of $15.2 billion in the biennial budget. But Democratic lawmakers – at the urging of the Washington Education Association (WEA) – refused to allow reforms.

“Though the new budget will increase state funding by about $1,000 per student, to an all-time high of $11,300 per student, only about 59 cents of every education dollar reaches the classroom, and restrictive seniority policies prevent students from learning from the best teachers,” wrote Liv Finne, the esteemed director of the Center for Education at Washington Policy Center in a July 2013 Seattle Times Op Ed.

“A little context is first necessary,” wrote Ms. Finne. “Last year, 23,000 Washington students, or 31 percent of the total, failed to pass the state’s third grade reading test. And 26,000 students, or 34 percent, failed to pass the third grade math test.”

That’s not all.

“Fully one-third of Washington’s schools rank as only ‘Fair’ or ‘Struggling,’ the lowest two categories on the State Board of Education’s School Achievement Index,” she explained. “These and other dismal results led the state Supreme Court to rule in the McCleary decision that ‘fundamental reforms are needed for Washington to meet its constitutional obligation to its students. Pouring more money into an outmoded system will not succeed.’”

She pointed out that student achievement is largely influenced by the quality of teachers, and that best schools have terrific teachers with an assertive principal who demands “high academic standards for students.”

Reform-minded lawmakers

Ms. Finne saluted efforts by state Senators, including Majority Leader Rodney Tom (D-Bellevue), as well Senators Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island), Bruce Dammeier (R-Puyallup) and Andy Hill (R-Redmond).

She commended their four proposed reforms:

  1.  Allowing school principals to hire the best teachers and end the practice of endlessly transferring bad teachers from one school to another in the infamously bureaucratic “dance of the lemons”
  2. Giving schools A to F letter grades so parents can easily understand how well their local school are performing
  3. Ending the social promotion of students who cannot read at grade level by third grade 
  4. Directing that future compensation adjustments for teachers, beyond an adjustment for inflation, be provided in the form of professional training in methods that actually work at teaching underachieving students how to read, write, add, subtract, multiply and divide.

She pointed out Democratic leaders blocked the reforms.

“Supported by the powerful WEA union, these lawmakers are strong defenders of the educational status quo, fearing policy changes that may threaten the position of adults in the system,” she theorized.

But wait there’s more.

“The WEA union is also working to cut education services for children,” she revealed. “Many school districts, at the request of WEA representatives, are seeking to close school house doors at noon Wednesdays or Fridays.”

Seriously? Yes.

Common sense

“While the cuts would certainly reduce classroom work hours for adults, they would deprive students of important instructional hours,” she asserted. “In addition, last week the WEA union filed a frivolous lawsuit in an attempt to deny students access to charter schools.”

Her conclusion:

“In many states, like Wisconsin, Indiana and Florida, lawmakers are improving public education by giving parents more choice in selecting the school that works best for their children,” she wrote.

“Similarly, Washington voters enacted the new charter school law to provide school choice for parents in a few districts across the state,” she added. “Given the record of the just-ended legislative session, however, it is clear reforms that give most Washington parents a greater voice in their children’s education will have to wait for another day.”

Ugh. Why is it too much to ask lawmakers to do the right thing for Washington’s kids, not their political allies and donors?

Little wonder Washington’s employers complain about the lack of quality applicants, and the state’s technology companies are strong advocates for Congress to increase the number of H1-B visas to alleviate the shortage of skilled workers (see: Seattle Tech Recruiter Provides Career Advice, Makes Prediction).

Remember this debacle the next time you vote.

The authoritative think tank’s Web address: www.washingtonpolicycenter.org.

From the Coach’s Corner, see the Keys to Economic Development: Managing Ignorance.

“The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”

-Abraham Lincoln


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

Washington: A Balanced Budget Is No Longer Enough

Updated Jan. 11, 2012

A Seattle Times headline is perplexing. True, the headline –“Lawmakers open session, try to close $1B gap” – is a fairly accurate assessment of Washington state’s budget. Not to be laboriously repetitive, but the headline is worrisome. Once again the Legislature faces a budget crisis.

“The economy is the focal point of this year’s legislature as state lawmakers attempt to close a $1.5 billion shortfall in a $34 billion budget at the state capitol in Olympia,” blogged Don Brunell, president of the Association of Washington Business (AWB).

Mr. Brunell is known for his pragmatic reasoning.

“As they deliberate, they must be mindful that Washington is in the midst of an anemic economic recovery which is very fragile,” the AWB president added. “New costs to employers, especially those along Main Street, have a dampening effect on our ability to increase consumer confidence and bring people back to work.”

That’s my sense, too. But the Legislature routinely fails to prioritize first things first. The short-term priority is to balance the 2011-2013 budget. But as a priority, it’s secondary to a bigger quandary – government and budgeting reform, which are needed immediately, as well.

Instead, all budget discussions are about the short-term and relatively insignificant issues grab a disproportionate amount of attention.

Gov. Gregoire wants to focus on a new $3.6 billion transportation package, gay marriage, shorten the school year, abolish social services, release some prisoners before the sentences expire, and increase the state’s sales tax. House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, also says same-sex marriage is a top priority.

A significant number of citizens wants to legalize marijuana. Some lawmakers want a statewide ban on plastic grocery bags.

Most of us in business agree education is a priority. But increasing taxes even for education isn’t productive as long as government/budgeting reform is ignored as a priority.

In addition to Mr. Brunell, another thoughtful pragmatist is Jason Mercier. Mr. Mercier is director of the Center for Government Reform of the Washington Policy Center.

Worth consideration is Mr. Mercier’s list of recommended reforms:

  • Enact a constitutional tax and spending limit (with two-thirds requirement to raise taxes) modeled after the original 1993 I-601 formula.
  • Remove as many of the restrictions on lawmakers’ ability to set spending priorities as possible (collective bargaining restrictions on compensation, federal mandates, assumption of auto-pilot budgeting on programs).
  • Reform competitive contracting. Allow agencies to make performance-based contracting more proactive (create a Competitive Contracting Council).
  • Provide the governor discretionary authority to cut spending.
  • Repeal unaffordable programs instead of suspending them.
  • Require at least a 5 percent reserve when adopting the next biennial budget.
  • Require updated four-year budget outlooks to be published after each state revenue forecast or budget adoption.
  • Require completed fiscal notes before bills can be acted on.
  • Phase in a defined-contribution retirement plan that gives state workers benefits that can never be taken away.

Amen. Yes, the Legislature should soberly balance the budget. However, unless the Legislature concomitantly reforms government and the budgeting process, uncertainty will never be alleviated for the state’s businesses and consumers.

From the Coach’s Corner, you might want to consider other public policy columns.

“There is an important sense in which government is distinctive from administration. One is perpetual, the other is temporary and changeable. A man may be loyal to his government and yet oppose the particular principles and methods of administration.”

-Abraham Lincoln


Columnist Terry Corbell is also a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services (many are available online). For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule Terry Corbell as a speaker, why don’t you contact him today?

Washington State House Speaker Frank Chopp Obstructs Workers’ Comp Reform

Updated May 19, 2011

Reform is drastically needed for workers’ compensation in Washington state. Workers’ comp costs threaten to kill the state budget and business, as companies face the prospect of double-digit workers’ comp increases.

That’s been the judgment of this Seattle business-news portal, the Association of Washington Business (AWB), and other business leaders. It might surprise you to learn that most state lawmakers want workers’ comp reform, too.

But debate is being stymied in the Legislature. Bills would continue protections for injured workers without further decimating the state’s operating budget. Plus, reform would give the workers an option to take a lump-sum payment.

Yes, it would be voluntary. The idea is patterned after successful workers’ comp systems in our neighboring state, Oregon, and 43 other states. But reform is stalled. Yes, Washington remains in the Neanderthal Age while the reform ideas are continuing to work in 44 other states.

Why doesn’t common sense prevail?

“It is House Speaker Frank Chopp (D-Seattle) and a group of union and trial attorney supported Democrats in the House who are blocking a vote on voluntary settlements,” writes AWB President Don Brunell.

“Remember, the bill passed the Senate with a bipartisan 35-14 vote,” adds Mr. Brunell.  “Gov. Gregoire, in her press conference yesterday, again called for the legislature to address workers comp and said it is imperative to prevent another round of double-digit rate increases in 2012.”

Not only has Speaker Chopp and the Legislature failed to act in the best interests of the state in workers’ comp reform, state residents face the prospect of a suspension of most state-government services in the near future.

“There are only a few days left in this special session and there is no budget,” warns the AWB president. “What appears to be happening is a stalling tactic by the Speaker until the July 1 deadline approaches and then only leave time to address the budget.  The budget must be adopted by July 1 or state government shuts down.”

The issue has drawn the attention of the state’s largest newspaper – a brilliant Seattle Times editorial entitled, “Speaker Chopp: Who is running your House? | Kate Riley.”

Ms. Riley’s editorial astutely disparages the stonewalling by Speaker Chopp:

“Washington state’s Speaker of the House Frank Chopp is outvoted on much-needed workers’ compensation reform.

“You wouldn’t know it though, because he won’t allow a floor vote on the bill.”

Despite overwhelming support in the Legislature for workers’ comp reform, the newspaper sheds further light on the disingenuous behavior in the Legislature, specifically regarding a reform bill in the House:

“So, House leadership referred HB 2109 to the black hole of the House Labor and Workforce Development Committee. On this issue, it’s a ‘black hole’ because the Democratic majority on the committee is stacked with union-friendly members, including some who are labor officials in their own right.

“According to his bio, Chairman Mike Sells has been the elected secretary-treasurer of the Snohomish County Labor Council since 1976 — the position became full-time in 1998. Of the seven Democrats serving last year, five have 10-for-10 voting records on the Washington Labor Council’s 2010 Legislative Voting Record. One each scored nine and eight.”

So, organized labor is the culprit behind the scenes. The unions would rather see a hike in workers’ comp rates.

That’s unacceptable. What we need is Speaker Chopp’s empathy for Washington state’s overall welfare to accelerate economic recovery. Washington needs a healthy economic environment for the creation of jobs. Let’s join Ms. Riley is demanding a solution. Speaker Chopp: Who is running your House?

From the Coach’s Corner, here are workers’ comp resource links:

AWB: ESB 5566 Will Minimize Sting in Workers-Comp Rates




“Now there sits a man with an open mind. You can feel the draft from here.”
– Groucho Marx


Author Terry Corbell has written innumerable online business-enhancement articles, and is a business-performance consultant and profit professional. Click here to see his management services. For a complimentary chat about your business situation or to schedule him as a speaker, consultant or author, please contact Terry.

Seattle business consultant Terry Corbell provides high-performance management services and strategies.