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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What our Washington State legislators CAN do to equitably fund educaton

its-timeI’ve seen enough dancing around the real issues of funding education in Washington State by our legislators and it’s time  for them to get serious or get another job.

From the Washington Budget Policy Center (who made a great presentation at the Stanford Center last year about funding education in our state hosted by the Seattle PTSA and the League of Women Voters):

Declining Revenue Projections Show It’s Time for Policymakers to Get Serious about Meeting Washington’s Needs

The new forecast of Washington state tax collections makes it clear that lawmakers can no longer assume the growing economy will automatically generate the resources needed to fund court-mandated improvements to schools, mental health, and other important priorities for our state.

The Washington State Economic and Revenue Forecast Council’s projection that state tax resources will be more than $500 million lower than previously forecasted over the next four years means policymakers must get serious about generating new revenue to invest in the progress and well-being of our state and its people.

The diminished tax resources ($78.2 million lower for the current 2015-17 budget cycle; $435.6 million lower in the 2017-19 budget cycle) present a significant challenge to House and Senate budget writers. The writers should be cautious about tapping budget reserves to make up for the reduction in revenues. Doing so would only be a temporary fix. And depleting savings now could jeopardize the state’s ability to maintain core public investment in schools, public health, parks, and other vital services that serve us all if the economy were to enter a downturn.

A better approach is to preserve the things we rely on by raising additional resources. The Legislature can do this by ending wasteful tax breaks and enacting the new tax on capital gains as proposed by Gov. Jay Inslee in late 2014. It wouldn’t be right to continue giving tax breaks to large profitable corporations and wealthy investors while cutting back on financial aid, making K-12 class sizes bigger, or eroding the independence of seniors.

Given the forecasted shortfall in resources, these new sources of added revenue are key to ensuring that all Washingtonians have the opportunity to live in healthy, thriving communities.

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Now get with it.

Dora Taylor

A call to action: No more public funding for Teach for America!

In 2009, Teach for America, Inc. (TFA, Inc.) had over $300M in net assets. In 2010, Wendy Kopp received a $50M grant from the government to send unqualified college recruits into the inner city schools to teach our most vulnerable. This money is on top of the fee that she charges a school district  for each recruit that is hired. Now Ms. Kopp is shilling for more by lobbying our legislators to cut back on money that would go to decrease class sizes and instead go into her coffers.

Please contact Senator Patty Murray, our representative from the great state of Washington, who sits on the Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee, and let her know that the money that is assigned to the classrooms should stay in the classrooms and not be used to hire recruits with 5 weeks of “training” to teach our students.

You can also contact Senator Murray’s aide, Moire Duggan, moire_duggan@murray.senate.gov, and send her a message that will get to the Senator.

To follow is an article written by Leonie Haimson of Class Size Matters and a founding member of Parents Across America that was published in the Huffington Post yesterday:

Will Our Federal Government Renounce Their Proposal to Increase Class Size?

The Obama administration has proposed that in next year’s education budget, 25 percent of the funds to reduce class size or keep teachers on staff be diverted to a competitive grant program to create and expand “new pathways” to teaching — e.g. to help fund organizations like Teach For America.

That would mean a cut of more than $600 million that, if approved, would lead to even larger classes in schools throughout the country next year. Senate Appropriations Committee will have its say on this issue next week when it considers the FY13 Labor, Health and Education funding bill. Recently, a group of corporate education reform groups, led by 50-CAN and joined by other organizations including Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst and Teach for America, sent a letter to Senate leaders, urging them to adopt the president’s proposal.

Over two-thirds of school districts have already seen significant increases in class size in recent years because of state budget cuts, and thousands of teachers have been laid off — despite the fact that providing smaller classes is one of the top priorities of parents for their children, year after year, in national polls and surveys.

In states like New York and California, this could mean from $50 to $68 million slashed from the Title II funds now available that districts can use, at their own discretion, either for class size reduction or for professional development. (See the NEA’s chart, showing how many millions your state will lose, if the president’s proposal is adopted.)

Not only is class size reduction one of the top priorities of parents and educators as shown in numerous surveys and polls, it is one of only a handful of reforms cited by the Institute of Education Sciences that have been proven to work through “rigorous evidence.”

Right now, districts use almost half of these Title II funds to keep class sizes as low as possible. Cutting these funds to create yet another competitive grant program that will be judged by the U.S. Department of Education will restrict the ability of districts to use resources to best suit their own needs and priorities. This appears to contradict the oft-claimed goal of both the president and Secretary Duncan to maximize local “flexibility” in revising NCLB, and their ostensible desire to get the federal government “out of the way” in mandating the use of federal education funds.

As had been pointed out previously, President Obama sends his own daughters to a private school, Sidwell Friends, that features small classes and very little standardized testing. It is unfortunate that he appears not to respect the desire of public school parents to provide some of the same advantages for their own children.

In New Zealand, when the federal government recently proposed an initiative to increase class size and re-allocate the funds towards unspecified “teacher quality” programs, the public outrage was immediate. As a result, the Prime Minister John Key just announced that he would not make this change. Why? As he put it, it had become “blindingly obvious” parents would not stand the policy.

Key added: “The government has listened to parents. What’s been fairly obvious over the last ten days is that parents are not comfortable in funding any increase in professional training for teachers through any increase in class sizes.”

Let me repeat that: they “listened to parents.” What an original idea. Perhaps it’s time for our federal government to start doing the same.