Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Improving Washington's schools will be a top issue in Olympia this session

If you live in Washington and have kids, or someday plan to have kids, you will want to pay close attention to what goes on in Olympia during the upcoming legislative session.

At issue is the definition and cost of basic public education. The Washington Constitution is unique in mandating that the state's "paramount duty" is to provide for "the education of all children." Unfortunately, parents, teachers and administrators will all agree that the state is failing at this responsibility. Not only that, but state business leaders will agree with depressing findings from the governor's review of the school system, the Washington Learns committee:
We have been importing educated workers from other states and
nations to fill our best jobs, leaving the less stable and lower paying
jobs for people educated in Washington.
Washington colleges and businesses have been increasingly recruiting students and workers from outside the state to fill slots because our students aren't receiving a competitive education.

I must share just one more appalling tidbit that I recently learned from Assistant Superintendent of Public Instruction Jennifer Priddy. According to Priddy, the state provides school districts enough money to replace all of their text books once every 18 years.

Eighteen years ago the Internet was just developing, the human genome wasn't mapped and the U.S.S.R. was still a country. (On a bright note, George W. Bush would be missing from most history books, as if he never existed.)

Most districts must use their school levy dollars to pay for a more reasonable text book cycle of on average, eight years. Levy dollars are legally intended to pay for local "enhancements" to schools but school districts are now relying on them to pay for the basic education that is really the state's responsibility.

This year we have a chance to thrust our schools into the 21st century. In December, the legislature-commissioned Basic Education Finance Joint Task Force will release a report to the legislature with an updated definition of state-funded public education and with a method of financing this improved definition.

From what I've seen so far, the task force's work has been thorough and innovative. They intend to make Washington's students the best educated in the country, test them fairly and pay teachers a fair living wage across the state. Accountability is important, as well as using transparent and simple accounting systems to manage school district resources.

Parents and communities need to be in touch with their legislators during the legislative session running from January 12--April 26. Our representatives need to know that we support fully funding our schools and that we understand that the future of Washington's workforce is at stake. It's an exciting time for education, but if this effort is going to succeed, all of us need to get involved. Change is not always easy, even when it's positive change.

More information on the task force can be found at the task force website. Funding Washington Schools is a grassroots organization advocating for stronger state funding and they provide copious amounts of information about the school funding crisis.


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