- Associated Press - Thursday, February 19, 2015

SEATTLE (AP) - A House committee on Thursday advanced a bill that would split Seattle Public Schools into two smaller districts, a week after the measure was panned during a public hearing by education advocates and members of the public.

The House Education Committee approved the proposal by two Seattle lawmakers on a vote of 16-5, and it now moves on to the full House for consideration.

The idea was rejected by every speaker at a public hearing on House Bill 2048 on Feb. 10, including representatives of the school district, the PTA, the teachers union and the League of Women Voters.

Sponsors of the measure, Reps. Eric Pettigrew and Sharon Tomiko Santos, say the school district is too big to solve its problems. They believe that with nearly 52,000 students like Seattle has, districts can’t support their schools and communities in the same way a smaller district can.

Speakers at the hearing last week said the public doesn’t want the district to be split. They contend two districts would cost more and likely be a worse at closing the achievement gap between kids from different ethnic and economic groups.

The bill would prevent any school district from enrolling more than 35,000 students. An independent panel would be assigned to figure out how to break up larger school districts. Seattle is the only one in the state that is large enough to be affected.

Pat Griffith of the League of Women Voters expressed concern about the bill, saying there is no public demand for the measure and there hasn’t even been a community conversation about the idea.

“It takes away the voice of the voters,” Griffith said, adding that the idea would likely bring instability and controversy to the community.

Eden Mack of the Seattle Council of parent-teacher-student organizations said parents are concerned that the idea would pit schools against one other.

Since the district is already overcrowded and underfunded, Mack urged the Legislature to focus on fully funding basic education instead of messing with the Seattle district.

Dan Steele of the Washington State School Directors Association said the bill would set a dangerous precedent by having lawmakers in Olympia make decisions for the people of Seattle.

Stefan Blanford, a member of the Seattle School Board, said he believes the measure would likely worsen the district’s achievement gap.

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