Stonier's bills have focus on education

Plan to share lessons online passes House

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OLYMPIA -- Legislation a Vancouver educator pushed to provide specialized online learning tools to every Washington K-12 classroom was overwhelmingly approved Friday afternoon by the state House of Representatives.

House Bill 1252, which heads for the Senate after the 92-5 House vote, would create a state-funded online warehouse of information for teachers and students. The proposed site would feature blog posts, recorded lessons, instructional videos, video teleconferencing between instructors and students, and suggested classroom activities.

The bill's prime sponsor, state Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, said such a service would be a low-cost way to help teachers improve their lessons and provide a resource for students to learn more efficiently.

"This will give our teachers a central hub of materials specific to the issues and needs of our kids," Stonier said on the House floor. "Let's give teachers an opportunity to meet, work, and think together online, sharing strategies that help them teach our children."

Stonier said an existing website close to what she wants to create is Khanacademy.org, a nonprofit educational hub with more than 4,000 videos and an online forum to answer questions. The lessons there range from historical background on the book "Les Miserables" to a lesson on the nation's debt ceiling.

"I don't want a sixth-grade math teacher to navigate the whole Web to find something applicable to his or her classroom," said Stonier, an instructional coach at Pacific Middle School. "I'd like them to be able to go to a (specialized) Washington state website."

Stonier said that to receive additional training, teachers generally have to go to a conference, a staff meeting, or an in-service day. The website would make lessons available quickly.

Prior to its passage, Rep. Brad Hawkins, R-East Wenatchee, amended the bill on the House floor. The amendment requires a test to follow each online lesson, and it clarifies that teachers could be paid for time spent on the website only if the Professional Educator Standards Board approves it.

The bill also is rendered null and void if it isn't given any state funding. The website would be audited in 2015 to determine its effectiveness.

The estimated cost of the program is $1.6 million, according to the state Revenue Department.

"Some may say we can't afford a project like this because we have so many other responsibilities in education," she said. "I would argue that the training for educators already paid for by the state is far more costly than this program would be."

Rep. Liz Pike, R-Camas, was the only House member from Clark County to vote against Stonier's bill.

Including House Bill 1252, seven of Stonier's 10 proposed bills have to do with education.

House Bill 1251, to add two members to the Opportunity Scholarship Board, has passed the House and been sent to the Senate, which has a conservative majority.

The scholarship board, which would be increased to nine members from seven, comprises members of the business community who are selected by the Governor. The two additional members must have a background in business or foundation work.

Opportunity scholarships are awarded to students completing a bachelor's degree in science, math, technology, engineering or health care fields, and they are awarded based on class standing, grades, and family or household income. The scholarships go to students pursuing their first bachelor's degrees and whose family income is less than 125 percent of the state's median family income.

Last spring, in its inaugural scholarship round, about 80 Washington State University Vancouver students -- and almost 3,000 students throughout the state -- received $1,000 Opportunity Scholarships. For juniors and seniors, that award has increased to $5,000.