Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Real transformation in education still elusive: How do we get to where we need to be?

Editor's Note (Kathleen): The following is the second in a two part series of guest posts authored by longtime education advocate and activist John Stokes, whom we are pleased to welcome to The NPI Advocate. John's perspective has been shaped by his years of work as a local, state and national Parent Teacher Association (PTA) leader and as a Bellevue Schools Foundation trustee.

John has served on numerous committees within the Bellevue School District and the state, and in political and bond and levy campaigns, and is a recent appointee to the Bellevue Parks Board.

He was instrumental in mobilizing parent and community members to lobby for successful passage of the major education reform bill, ESHB 2261.

After decades of advocacy for an updated definition of basic education, including aspects that are widely considered to be included as part of the educational experience the state offers all of its students, and more recent insistence that we transform our school environment at the district level, the Washington State Legislature passed ESHB 2261.

As I noted previously, real questions remain as to whether this promise and ambitious plan will ever be implanted in anything close to the ideal set out in the bill. Taking into account the several hurdles before this realization, I want to suggest that there is hope for real change despite the odds.

The overarching need for substantial change is in our tax system. While 2261 sets up a finance group to recommend a new system to more adequately fund public schools, without systemic change in Washington’s current reliance on property, sales and gross receipts taxes to fund its schools and other public services, all of our plans and dreams for a quality school system that prepares our kids to compete in the global economy and even make a decent family wage will not come to fruition.

The money is there, the problem is the tax system does not provide sustainable revenue for our common wealth. Changing this situation will take the concerted effort and the imaginative action that columnist Neal Peirce talks about.

Elected leaders, businesspeople, and teachers all need to be on board to make this a reality. Also involved must be the parents and families of all our children whose life experience depends on a good outcome of this effort.

The excellent networking of parents and school activists that helped make the difference in getting 2261 enacted will have to be significantly elevated in intensity and strength to help push through tax reform.

Work has to start on this now, but it can be done.

In order to make the first item really work in the long run, we also have to make sure that the specified groups in the bill, and the Legislature, do their jobs to push the work forward to implement the plan in 2261.

Unless there is some positive sign of a real attempt at changing the system, parents and taxpayers will not buy into providing more money for schools above some marginal increase. The Washington State PTA, the League of Education Voters and Stand for Children, along with other education organizations, are already working to get us on the path to real reform.

Education advocates must come together and work together. We have to find ways to work collaboratively with the teachers union, the Washington Education Association. Other unions, WSSDA, WASA and others, will have to take hard inward looks and change in order to be more nimble and effective working with parents and the business community to get this job done across the board.

The change that President Obama has championed and which Peirce espouses must come about through citizen action so that the goals of a stronger and more competitive America is possible, and naysayers and anti-tax people must not be allowed to dictate policy and the direction of the state in this century.

The money is there, the Great Recession will not last, and the needs of the children must not be sacrificed for the immediate gratification of a minority of the population. We can do it if we believe.


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