A high school student speaks up about school funding and Washington State’s Paramount Duty

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Although recent Washington state level budget changes have created a plan to fully fund education up to the point of no longer being under court sanctioned fines, the work is still unfinished. Washington can, and must, do better than just basic education. As young people we have so much potential and we need that to be fostered through schools that are able to provide the tools we need. The goal of these images is to provide a set of faces instead of just numbers and words for this issue that is often full of words and numbers.

Washington State education funding has long been stuck on the back burner. Despite the McCleary case, this year will be the first to officially be fully funded up to the definition of basic education. Sadly this definition and funding does not go far enough.

Currently education funding in Washington comes from three separate places: federal money, local levies, and state funding. These sources of funding should in theory be able to fund education not just up to standard but above it. But with the way the system is being used these sources have failed to even fund basic education.

Approximately 59% of Washington education funding comes from the state (Logue). This money is intended to fund “basic education” which is doled out to districts based on the number of teachers, teacher experience level and number of students. Although the definition of what is basic education is somewhat vague there are some things that are outlined specifically, such as: 180 school days, a district average of 1,027 instructional hours, 24 high school credits, Learning Assistance Programs, Transitional Bilingual Instructional Programs, Special Education programs, Highly Capable Programs, and Transportation (Korman). Some of the more vague requirements include: “The Arts”, Science, and Social Studies (Korman). Vague requirements leave the state room to underfund schools without it being clear if or how they are breaking the law.

Covering the difference between a “basic education” and a good education, are levies, also known as “enhancements”. These are things that can make a student’s education fun and engaging, decreasing dropout rates. Some enhancements such as music programs are know to improve reading and math scores. These enhancements because they improve performance and attendance are arguably just as important as the core curriculum. So why are they not included in the definition of basic education?

Up until recently the state of Washington was in violation of its own constitution. The state constitution reads “it is the Paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders” (WA.) and I would argue that the current system is nowhere close to “ample”. The state of Washington is 35th in per student funding (Navas). And until recently the state was under contempt of court in the McCleary case for not meeting this requirement.

An important question to consider in discussing solutions is if more money will in fact actually help the problem. Although some believe otherwise Ulrich Boser writes that many studies agree with the opinion that increased funding leads to higher academic results. “The economists [Julien Lafortune, Jesse Rothstein and Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach] also showed that, as a result of the increases in spending, student learning in reading and math increased, with gains driven largely by low-income students.”. According to a different study higher education funding led to a higher level of education and a higher income for the students. Not only is an increase in money necessary to improve our schools but it is an effective manner towards the end goal of better education for students.

Students in Washington are not receiving the education they rightfully deserve and therefore we should all be up in arms. When schools are continually left underfunded it gives the impression to students that the state doesn’t care about their education and in essence their future. The future of students determines the future of our state, our country, and our world. Today’s young people are the future and if we do not provide them with the tools they need to succeed and thrive, I’m afraid we are dooming them to a world not unlike our current one. But on the hopeful side, if we do provide them with a good education then they will possess the tools to make our world a much better place.

Putting pressure on politicians is practically an American tradition, and while it may not always be 100% effective, it always has an effect. Pressure on legislators will hopefully force them to to recognize and act on what their constituents want. It’s a messy inefficient process but it’s the one we have and we have to find the best ways to use it.

The way I intend to do this is through showing the experiences of students in underfunded schools and programs. When I asked a classroom full of my friends and peers if anyone had experienced underfunding in school practically every hand went up. Just meeting the definition of basic education is not enough; we can do better.

Christine Cornell

The Center School, Seattle

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