As the state House of Representatives rolled out its two-year budget complete with $4.4 billion in cuts and reductions, teachers from around the state gathered in Olympia Monday to protest growing class sizes.
A group of about 200 teachers organized by the Washington Education Association came to the Capitol to ask legislators to eliminate the requirement that students pass state tests before they graduate 12th grade and use the money to reduce class sizes in elementary school, a move they said would bolster student performance later on.
“These are incredibly tough economic times and we know that every segment of our state will see cuts, but the worst thing that could happen in these budget cuts would be to do permanent damage to our schools,” said Mary Lindquist, president of the Washington Education Association.
She said finding funding to reduce class sizes in elementary schools would improve student performance and decrease drop out rates, and teachers who attended the protest agreed.
Liz Warren, a 6th grade teacher from Stella Schola Middle School in Redmond said large class sizes in elementary school classrooms meant students weren’t prepared by the time they made it to her classroom.
“I have students coming to me who don’t know how to multiply, don’t know what a noun is,” she said. “You can’t move on if a student doesn’t have the basics.”
Protesters estimated that eliminating state tests as a graduation requirement would save about $50 million, mainly because requiring high schoolers to pass before they can graduate means schools have to provide expensive re-takes.
The budget that state representatives proposed Monday would eliminate funding for class-size reductions for kindergarten through fourth grade and suspend Initiative 728, which would allocate a per-student amount to school for reducing class sizes or adding early-learning and other programs. Doing so would save about $1 billion over two years.
The budget would provide about $25 million, however, for lower class sizes in high-poverty schools.
Rep. Kathy Haigh, a Shelton Democrat and the chairwoman of the House Education Appropriations and Oversight Committee, said funding for that was probably contingent on the passage of two bills in the Legislature, House Bill 1410 and 1412 that would cut some math and science tests as high school graduation requirements in the coming years.
House Bill 1412 already made it through both houses of the state Legislature and would allow the graduating classes of 2013 and 2014 to take one end-of-course math assessment rather than two in order to be able to graduate.
House Bill 1410, though, has not made it out of committee. It would move the requirement that students pass a science end-of-course assessment to the class of 2017, rather than the class of 2013.
Lewis McMurran, a lobbyist for the Washington Technology Industry Association, said he was concerned about the idea of saving money by removing high school testing requirements for graduation because he thought it would jeopardize student improvement in science and math.
He suggested ending seniority-based layoffs for teachers as a way to cut costs in education instead.
Washington Education Association Spokesman Rich Wood said lawmakers seemed to be taking steps in the right direction with the budget announced today, but teachers also wanted to see the state repeal reading and writing tests as a graduation requirement, a proposal that so far has not made progress in the Legislature.