House Committee seeks to cut student instruction time
A couple of weeks ago the Washington state senate passed SB 5054 along party lines, 27-21. The bill would cut classroom learning time in public schools by four hours a week. Private schools would not be affected. The bill was unanimously supported by Democrats and opposed by Republicans. On March 14th the House Education Committee heard public testimony on this bill. I followed the hearing and was dismayed by what I heard.
My Legislative Memo "SB 5054, to cut classroom learning time in schools by four hours a week," can be read here: https://www.washingtonpolicy.org/publications/detail/sb-5054-to-cut-classroom-learning-time-in-schools-by-four-hours-a-week.
SB 5054 encourages districts to “provide up to four hours each week for certificated instructional staff to engage in professional learning communities during the school day.” (Section 3). (Certificated instructional staff is the official term for teachers.)
Yet current state law requires districts to provide students a certain minimum in instructional hours. State funding to districts pays for these hours, and teacher contracts are negotiated based on these requirements. The law says students are entitled to 30 hours of certified instruction per week, for a total of about 1,000 hours per school year (see RCW 28A.15.220).
SB 5054, however, would weaken this requirement. Teachers would only provide 26 hours of instruction a week, a 13 percent cut.
Since the COVID school shutdowns the WEA union has been pressing the legislature to cut teacher work hours by redefining “instructional hours.” During the 2022 legislative session, Senator Manka Dhingra proposed SB 5735 to cut classroom instruction time by 20 percent by redefining “instructional hours” to include “asynchronous learning.” SB 5735 died in committee after vehement opposition from parents and from the general public.
SB 5054 is the WEA union’s current effort. They say non-teachers can provide “instructional hours” and that certified teachers should work less.
This is a dishonest distortion of the plain meaning of language. Children in public schools have a right to be taught by qualified teachers, not by fill-in non-teachers.
Washington’s citizens are now providing $19.7 billion a year in taxes for public education. School funding has reached the all-time high of $19,000 per student on average statewide, more than tuition at most private schools. Average public teacher salaries are $95,000, plus benefits of $35,000.
If SB 5054 passes Washington will be the first state to fill classrooms with staff who are not qualified to teach. Washington’s families will see, once again, that lawmakers are more concerned about pleasing the WEA union than in educating their children. No wonder school choice is becoming so popular.