The goal of Monday night’s meeting between the Lake Washington School District (LWSD) Board of Directors and local members of the Governor’s Joint Task Force on Basic Education Finance boiled down to what is written in Article 9, Section 2 of the Washington State Constitution:
“It is the Paramount Duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste or sect.”
Task Force members Rep. Ross Hunter and Sen. Rodney Tom, Democrats from the 48th Legislative District and Rep. Glenn Anderson, a Republican from the 5th Legislative District, shared thoughts on how the LWSD and all school districts can best manage precious resources to ensure all children a solid K-12 education and preparation for gainful employment.
Hundreds of parents, teachers and administrators from the LWSD and neighboring school districts packed the LWSD’s L.E. Scarr Resource Center to hear what the legislators have discussed, so far. They emphasized that this is still very much a work in progress.
Referring to education issues such as overcrowded classrooms, disappearing electives, poorly-maintained facilities, cuts in after-school transportation and sharing of school nurses or librarians, Anderson commented, “We know what the problems are and what the reasonable alternatives are.”
“We could do nothing … fix the existing system … or take it across the state, across all political parties and regions and give it a foundation for the next 30 years.”
SEPARATE, BUT EQUAL
As Hunter began a slide presentation, he pointed out that rural districts here and in Eastern Washington have different demographics and different needs than the LWSD but in every case, students and parents deserve:
• Reasonable Adequacy: “Provide enough resources to educate children.”
• Transparency: “Be clear about what is purchased and how local districts make spending decisions.”
• Flexibility: “Allow districts to make decisions in the best interests of their students.”
• (To) Begin with the End in Mind: “Start with high school graduation requirements and work backwards.”
Plus, the state must provide multiple pathways to success beyond high school graduation — career readiness or college preparation.
To achieve those results, the Task Force seeks to redefine a program of basic education, change teaching, guarantee equity and accountability and phase in new programs and resources in a thoughtful manner.
Creating separate models for Primary, Elementary, Middle and High School levels, the Task Force proposes a calculation of teachers needed according to class size, planning/professional development and graduation requirements.
The legislators suggested a seven-period class schedule in high school, a reasonable class size of 25 students for most courses and smaller class sizes (perhaps 15 students) for technical education, lab sciences, Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate.
More instructional time, such as tutoring or summer school, must be funded for students who start the school year behind their peers. But there must also be enhanced learning opportunities for gifted students.
There’d be explicit assumptions for other building level instructional and administrative staff, such as principals, librarians, nurses, counselors and instructional coaches.
There would also be allocations for non-instructional staff including teacher’s aides, secretaries, student safety monitors and custodians and of course, non-staff costs, ranging from instructional technology to heating of facilities.
“If we don’t plan, we end up taking money out of programs,” Hunter stated.
GIVING TEACHERS THEIR DUE
“Changes in teaching effectiveness are the most leveraged investments we can make,” said Hunter.
And there is significant evidence that hiring nationally board-certified teachers ensures a model where all teachers can benefit, he added.
The Task Force members believe that starting wages for teachers must be set at a competitive level, compensation should increase as teachers demonstrate added competence and that teachers should be recognized as they attain certification at various levels.
Teachers who accept additional responsibilities such as mentoring should be rewarded and there must be cost-of-living adjustments based on where they are employed.
But also, said Hunter, the plan should include ways for current teachers to “phase in” to new systems based on certification.
EQUITY AND TRANSPARENCY
“The Legislature shall provide a general and uniform system of public schools,” Hunter continued.
To remove long-standing inequities, especially for low-income and ELL students, the Task Force members would propose the elimination of “grandfathering” for teacher salaries and phase in a 30 percent levy lid (currently, LWSD’s levy lid is at 24 percent).
They also would improve data collection with a state-provided information system and enhance ability to link data to students as they move from school to school.
Kids who move frequently — for example, foster children — and are not placed in the right classes each time, lose ground and are more likely to drop out of school, said Hunter.
WHERE’S THE MONEY?
The Task Force members spoke of phasing in new resources over six years and one educational feature at a time.
A significant portion of the growth would be funded by taking a larger share of the natural growth of the state budget — and in time, return to spending 50 percent of the general fund on K-12 education.
Answering questions from LWSD board members, the LWSD PTSA Council and members of the general audience, Tom, Anderson and Hunter acknowledged that not everyone will see the value of what they’re proposing. People are protective of their money and their personal circumstances.
“When you come down to Olympia, we have a lot of great causes … heartbreaking stories of why their issue should be funded,” said Tom.
Anderson agreed, “We are selling change in an environment of bad news.”
However, Tom urged, “Instead of looking at drop-out rates, look at successes. …Everyone in this room needs to be personally involved.”
He said that chain e-mails to legislators are not effective, but old-fashioned telephone calls, handwritten notes or personalized e-mails have impact.
Most of all, Tom concluded, “We need to make this a bipartisan process — education should never be a partisan issue.”
For additional information about the Basic Education Finance Joint Task Force, visit http://www.leg.wa.gov/Joint/Committees/BEF/.
To learn about Funding Washington Schools, a resource developed by PTA advocates, visit www.fundingwaschools.org.