Opinion: House Committee seeks to cut student instruction time

Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center states that if SB 5054 passes Washington will be the first state to fill classrooms with staff who are not qualified to teach.

Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center states that if SB 5054 passes Washington will be the first state to fill classrooms with staff who are not qualified to teach

Liv Finne
Washington Policy Center

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.

Liv Finne
Liv Finne

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.

Liv Finne is the director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center.

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  1. Keith Anvick

    This is really dumb. Government keeps wanting more and more money for education, yet they want to reduce the actual education time……

  2. Margaret

    So disappointing to see constant demands for teacher pay raises, which the state legislature usually funds, coupled with demands for fewer instructional hours.
    What counts as instruction? In some districts, Recess, class changes, parent teacher conferences, and for high school seniors, the last five days of school regardless of instruction. Comparing the Camas School District calendar from 2004-2023, instruction hours have decreased as teacher pay demands have increased.
    A look at the Camas School District calendar
    Elementary school early release every Wednesday at 12:10 PM 
    Starting in 2014, elementary students are now released early for parent-teacher conferences instead of the previous after-school timeframe.
    Elementary conf. week early release at 12:10 PM 3 x per school year
    Middle school and high school have early release once a month.
    Both Wed. June 14 and Friday June 16 are listed for early release.
    For inclement weather, 2-hour late starts are not made up.
    If school is closed for inclement weather, there are make up days scheduled, most of them tacked on at end of June, after June 19, which is listed as a “Non Student Attendance Day”, where no direct in person instruction is available apparently. Key time for students struggling to complete assignments, or tests.
    High school graduations start 10 days before the last day of classes.
    Transportation costs are the same for early release short days as for longer days, which is wasting resources as well as robbing students of instruction time.
    In addition, Teachers are paid for other non-instruction days such as in-service and grading days. Labor day now has 2 days off, and Thanksgiving vacation is 3 days off.
    Instruction time in public schools has decreased significantly over the years, and teacher pay increase demands, and illegal teacher strikes have increased.

  3. Ann Donnelly

    Isn’t Sen. Dhingra, who proposed cutting instructional time by 20%, in 2022, the same legislator who held the vehicle pursuit bill hostage in the Senate committee, and put its passage this year in grave doubt? She is really a menace to our state.


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