The Kennewick School District stands to lose control of more than $678,000 in federal money because state lawmakers failed to firmly tie state standardized test scores to teacher evaluations.
That means there would be less in-school tutoring and fewer staff members to help students struggling with classes, said Superintendent Dave Bond.
And, if the state doesn't resolve the issue, the federal government is expected to pull Washington's waiver from a federal education law, resulting in many public schools, including those in the Mid-Columbia, to be listed as failing.
Richland schools would lose access to about $300,000. Pasco school officials didn't have an estimate on how much money they'd lose control of without the waiver, though the district receives millions of dollars in federal aid.
Never miss a local story.
Gov. Jay Inslee and state Superintendent Randy Dorn are still trying resolve the issue before the legislative session ends, said Jaimie Smith, Inslee's spokeswoman.
House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan sponsored House Bill 2800 that would tie test scores to teacher evaluations but wouldn't be implemented until fall 2017. It is with the House appropriations committee. A separate but similar bill is winding its way through the Senate.
The governor's proposal has met resistance, "but there is still plenty of time to get this job done and preserve federal funding and the flexibility to serve struggling students in local school districts," Inslee said.
But requiring the state's standardized tests be used to assess teacher performance isn't a great alternative to the loss of funding, Tri-City school officials said.
"We're transitioning between tests. Why would we endorse a system that uses test results we don't even understand yet?" Bond said.
Washington and other states have received waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act in recent years. The controversial law could list a school as failing even if almost all students were overachieving but a single subgroup, such as special education students or English language learners, is behind.
The waivers allowed states to set up their own federally approved school performance criteria, including use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.
Many Mid-Columbia school districts use standardized exams, such as the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, test or other informal tests.
State law does not require, only encourages, districts to use test scores to assess teaching. Federal education officials want the state to make it a requirement.
The state Senate recently rejected a bill that would have tied the state's standardized math and reading scores to teacher performance.
Sens. Mike Hewitt, R-Walla Walla, Janea Holmquist Newbry, R-Moses Lake, and Mike Schoesler, R-Ritzville, voted to approve the bill, but Sen. Sharon Brown, R-Kennewick, joined with a few other Republicans and most Senate Democrats in opposing it.
Failure to link test scores to teacher performance will mean the loss of the waiver, putting schools back under No Child Left Behind, where almost all Washington schools are failing.
It also means districts would lose discretion of 20 percent of the federal money they receive for their neediest students.
That money, worth up to $40 million across the state, would still come in but would have to be spent on outside educational services and tutors instead of on the district providing those resources.
It would also require districts to further spread the money they receive because so many more schools will be seen as underperforming, said Erich Bolz, a Richland assistant superintendent.
"The nightmare for us would be requiring us to complete a whole other level of administration," he said.
However, local officials said, using the standardized test scores, at least at this time, isn't a better scenario.
The state is still fine-tuning the new Smarter Balanced Assessments, based on the Common Core State Standards, that will officially be used next year.
Only a fraction of a district's teachers would be affected because many other teachers don't teach subjects directly related to math and reading.
"What do you do with a social studies teacher? A P.E. teacher? An art teacher?" said Leslee Caul, spokeswoman for the Pasco School District.
District administrators aren't the only ones concerned about tying standardized test scores to teacher evaluations. About 300 teachers from across the state rallied in Olympia this week against HB 2800, a release from the Washington Education Association said.
"It's like telling a dentist, 'We're going to evaluate you on how many cavities your patients have,' " said Erick Lucke, a Kirkland teacher. "We need to send a message to federal lawmakers that they need to fix the No Child Left Behind laws."
Thousands signed a petition to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan opposing tying test scores to teacher assessments.
Bond said he thinks the federal government will have to give the state more time for the waiver to be preserved at this point.
Other school officials said they will wait to see what happens and adapt to whatever regulations or mandates come down from the state or federal governments.
"We just hope they're funded," Caul said.
w The Associated Press contributed to this report.
w Ty Beaver: 509-582-1402; firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @_tybeaver; Google+: +TyBeaverTCHerald