Last week, the Supreme Court reminded lawmakers their work is not finished on education funding. Now voters need to do their duty.
THE state Supreme Court‘s latest order in the McCleary school-funding case made two things clear. First, the Legislature’s work is far from finished.
Second, it’s time for parents and other voters to press their own case for wise investment of the expected additional funding. Money should be spent shrewdly so every student in Washington can get a great education that puts college and careers within their reach.
Voters can do their duty by taking care to select lawmakers who have studied the state budget and are committed to fully funding basic education. (For more information on how candidates stand on issues related to the 2012 McCleary decision, check out our endorsements at st.news/nov-2016-endorsements.)
By most estimates, the Legislature should allocate an additional $3.5 billion over the two-year budget cycle for K-12 basic education, some of that coming from local levy reform and some likely from new taxes. Teacher pay, regional differences and collective bargaining all are part of the negotiations.
But the Legislature should be especially focused on the achievement gap — the disparity in academic achievement between students of different ethnic backgrounds or income levels. The statewide graduation rate of 78 percent is still too low and too many of the students who aren’t earning a diploma are black, Native American, Latino and poor. Too many of those who do graduate from high school still are not ready to enter college or walk into their first job toward a great career without remedial classes.
A new study from Washington Roundtable found a dramatic mismatch between the training of Washington students and the jobs that will be available in Washington’s growing economy. Thestudy, conducted by the Boston Consulting Group, found that only 31 percent of Washington high-school students — about 25,000 from each graduating class — go on to earn a credential after high school, including college degrees and professional training certificates.
There are not nearly enough qualified applicants to fill the nearly 600,000well-paying, career-building job openings the study found will be available over the next five years. Washington employers will have to continue to look to other states and across the world to fill jobs that should be going to Washington’s young people.
The problems start much earlier than college. In Seattle, the four-year graduation rate for all students in the class of 2015 was 76 percent, but just 66 percent of black students, 58 percent of Hispanic or Latino students and 53 percent of Native American or Alaskan Native students graduated in four years.
Statewide, about 60 percent of kids in fourth through eighth grades passed the new English Language Arts exam this past spring, but only about 40 percent of black and Hispanic students are meeting the standard on those exams.
Some school districts and schools are making huge gains in areas such as graduation rates and the achievement gap. Scaling up some of these efforts would require more money; others require new thinking.
What can you do?
Voting is step one.
But after the election, citizens must keep lawmakers focused on their paramount duty: to fully fund basic education. That means showing up in Olympia during the 2017 legislative session on the phone, in email boxes or in person.
Follow the example charter-school parents set during the 2016 legislative session: Bring your children or grandchildren to Olympia for a civics lesson. Visit your lawmakers, then spend some time in a committee room or in the galleries above the House and Senate floors.
Kids and parents are treated with great respect and attention when they testify before committees, so sign up to speak during an education or budget-committee meeting.
Pick up the phone and call your lawmakers. It’s surprising how few people do this and it can really make an impact.
Lawmakers need to solve the school-funding problem this session. And many will need citizens to push them toward that goal.