Two former Seattle school principals encourage the Legislature to consider three key policies that will make the most difference for the state’s students.
PICTURE this: Two Washington students grow up just a few miles apart but face very different academic futures. Both attend their local public schools. Both dream of being successful. One walks across a high school graduation stage to earn a diploma. The other one does not. The unacceptable truth: by attending schools in different Washington ZIP codes, students often receive dramatically different — and unequal — educations.
Many know our education system is underfunded, as proven by the landmark Supreme Court decision McCleary v. State of Washington. As former school principals, we, along with parents, teachers and students, have witnessed that the state’s public-education policies often leave our most vulnerable students behind. The state currently allocates funding in such a way that the students and schools with the greatest need actually get less money (more about that later).
How is it that our state has developed an education system that shortchanges our students who need us the most? Only 50 percent of students read and write at grade level. One in five never finishes high school. That number more than doubles for our students of color, in poverty, English language learners, foster and homeless youth, and those with special needs.
The McCleary decision not only affirms the Legislature’s responsibility to adequately fund Washington’s public schools, but also the opportunity to ensure funds are equitably distributed to help close our academic achievement and opportunity gaps.
This can ensure not only a bright future for individual students, but also make Washington schools a shining beacon reflective of the massive accomplishments of our homegrown giants like Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Boeing and many others. A state that offers so much for successful Washington businesses should do no less for those who are waiting in the wings to sustain those businesses for the future through their quality education today.
To become this shining beacon in the Northwest corner of our country, legislators must consider these three key policies:
• Fair funding allocation model: While the state currently allocates money based on a rigid class-size formula including the staff mix, students in low-income schools have, on average, younger teachers with lower salaries. As such, those schools may get less money, even though they have more high-need students. Lawmakers should allocate funds on a per-pupil basis and remove the staff-mix factor from the allocation model.
• Support for students’ social-emotional growth: Youth homelessness has increased more than 90 percent since 2008 to nearly 40,000 in the 2015-2016 school year. Compound that with students in foster care or living below the poverty line, and we have a significant population whose academic success is dependent on nonacademic support. Given the crises and emotional trauma these students face outside of school, it is imperative that additional funding is provided for structures within the education system to support students who face these social and emotional barriers to their academic success.
• Access to career and technical training for all: In the future, 73 percent of Washington jobs will require a postsecondary degree or certificate, but right now too many students don’t have access to programs that prepare them for our future jobs that will be imperative to sustain and grow our state’s economy. We need an educated, diverse workforce for the economy of tomorrow.
Washington’s graduation rate ranks 41st in the country. Any legislative action that does not substantially improve this statistic is not only a disservice to all of us, but also a failure of our first mandate as Washingtonians: to educate our children.
As former principals who have worked with diverse Washington families, we urge our legislators to insist on funding policies that give each of our students an equitable and high-quality education that prepares them for school and beyond.