Time to stop underfunding education, writes the Chimacum High School principal. Tackle policy first, then funding.
AS a high school principal and an educator for 25 years, my day-to-day duties run the gamut. I am an administrator, an educator and a counselor to students and staff at Chimacum High School in Jefferson County. I am also a parent, and lucky to have a front-row seat to my children’s high school years. These experiences offer firsthand insight into the challenges our young people face in the classroom and after the bell. But it also puts me in a position to witness when my students — including my children — are denied the equitable opportunities they deserve.
My children — Jack and Molly — are precious and delightful. I like to say, though, that all my students are “my kids.” What I want for my own two children, I want for each of them.
But because our state is still without full and fair funding for their education, it is too often my job to look these bright young people in the eye and tell them, “maybe next year.”
Pro, con Op-Eds
The state Senate has approved SB 5607, which tackles both education policy and funding reforms — an effort to meet the Supreme Court’s McCleary ruling. The bill is now under House consideration. Dan Evans and Slade Gorton take the pro opinion.
In late 2015, I took this message to lawmakers. Along with hundreds of other educators and parents, I shared with a panel of both Republicans and Democrats the consequences of underpaid teachers, antiquated textbooks and scant resources for innovative educational opportunities. Our staff members work hard and struggle to make due with less — sometimes through 14-hour days. Particularly for a rural school like ours, funding and policy changes mean time and energy away from students.
Now it’s 2017 and the Legislature is still struggling to address these issues — and time is running out. Although educators and parents hear this is “the year” lawmakers will solve the funding crisis, I remain deeply concerned by some of what is coming out of Olympia.
Any reforms to education policy or funding, especially drastic changes, should start with the simple question: “does this have the students’ best interest at heart?”
Unfortunately, this is not the case with the proposal passed by Senate Republicans last week. Senate Bill 5607 takes one idea — per pupil funding — and tries to cram an entirely new education system into it without the necessary additional funding. You can rearrange a deck of cards, but you will still have 52. Their per-pupil approach merely delivers funding differently, and doesn’t equate to increased revenue or greater student success.
And because the bill is a policy and funding overhaul rolled into one, neither seems to be done well. Standards for teacher certification are removed in this legislation, enabling just about anyone to teach in the classroom. The proposed legislation endangers the foundations of basic education for districts like ours by increasing the reliance on our local levies and decreasing funding we receive from the state. This plan seriously jeopardizes already stretched resources for special education, English-language learners and highly gifted students.
Chimacum is a small, rural school district and, though parts of this bill seem to be aimed at addressing the challenges faced by districts like mine, the effort falls short. The problem isn’t the intent, the problem is that the approach is fundamentally flawed.
The funding is also a serious issue under this plan. Taxpayers in my district and dozens of others will pay more, but students will get less. The irony, of course, is that Chimacum is home to the McClearys — the family whose lawsuit lit a fire under the Legislature to solve this crisis in the first place.
I’ve looked at both the Republicans’ and the Democrats’ proposals before the Legislature this year, and I am confident there is room to find common ground and a viable, sustainable solution.But any bipartisan agreement has to put students at the center.
My advice to legislators to make this work is the same I would give to a struggling student — do your math homework and your English homework, but not at the same time. Find agreement on policies that will put student success first, and then agree on how to amply fund it this year.