Inslee signs law to turn around struggling schools

Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law Tuesday a plan for the state superintendent’s office to intervene in the management of continually low-performing schools.

The measure directs the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) to develop a process to identify “persistently lowest-achieving schools,” as well as create guidelines for how to turn around schools that are struggling. The schools would receive additional funding to implement their own turnaround plan based on the OSPI guidelines.

For schools that don’t improve substantially after three years, OSPI could impose its own improvement plan on the school, which could involve firing staff, shifting funding and introducing new teaching curricula. Schools that don’t follow the plan set out by OSPI could be denied funding and potentially closed.

Sen. Steve Litzow, the Mercer Island Republican who sponsored the legislation, said in a statement Tuesday that the bill “is a great step toward ensuring that all children are successful.”

“In order to address the state’s stagnant high-school graduation rate and growing opportunity gap, we must address the communities that are repeatedly failed by the system, which disproportionately include minority children from low-income families,” said Litzow, who is chairman of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee.

The measure, Senate Bill 5329, started out as a proposal for OSPI to take over as many as 20 struggling schools a year and put them in a special district run by an outside nonprofit. The original bill carried the threat that teachers at the struggling schools could be immediately fired.

The compromise bill, which has gone through several iterations, now has the support of state schools superintendent Randy Dorn.

“We finally got there,” Dorn said. “It’s a good idea to be in partnership with school districts, in partnership with schools. But if they don’t move the needle and improve, then the superintendent should be put in more of a leadership role. It’s not a partnership anymore.”

Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said the bill still is a distraction from the need to increase funding for the entire state education system.

“Overall, we need to provide the funding for all schools, not just some of them,” Wood said.