The Senate’s education reform bill goes along way to improving the state’s education system and meeting its mandate to fully fund education.
ARTICLE IX of our Washington State Constitution declares it “the paramount duty of the state to make ample provisions for the education of all children.”
In 2012, the state Supreme Court found the Legislature to have violated this command and ordered compliance. While the last several sessions of the Legislature have taken major steps to do so, the court still holds that the constitutional goal has not yet been attained. That is the primary function of the current session of the Legislature.
The present system requires school districts to use special tax levies to fund a significant portion of basic education. It includes wide differences in the burden imposed by those special levies from district to district, generally imposing heavy taxpayer burdens on the poor districts and often fails to recognize the higher cost of housing for teachers in urban districts. Clearly, the system does an inadequate job of educating our students, with high school graduation rates falling below 80 percent.
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. Whitney Meissner takes the con opinion.
Putting more money into a failed system just creates a bigger, more expensive failed system.
Now, the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus has introduced a dramatic new approach that answers both the school funding deficit while addressing the education quality and accountability questions that have plagued Washington schools for far too long.
The proposal, Senate Bill 5607, puts the students first, exactly where they belong.
The new idea establishes a guaranteed level of state investment per pupil, and a stable, predictable funding source that meets constitutional requirements and the court’s test. It also offers teachers new opportunities for pay increases while giving districts an unprecedented amount of freedom to allocate their funding.
Every school district is assured of $12,500 a year for every pupil, a level that would rank Washington among the highest nationally. It would clearly meet the constitution’s mandate and the supreme court’s order. It adds to that figure substantial amounts for every student from a low-income family, for each special-education student, for those for whom English is a second language, for homeless students, for highly capable students and for vocational education.
To reach these goals it imposes a local property tax levy of $1.80 on every $1,000 of assessed property valuation. (The present average of this levy is $2.54 per $1,000.) The state then guarantees the difference to get to the $12,500 per student minimum. Special levies for basic education will be prohibited and enhancement levies will be allowed, for functions outside of basic education.
This would lead to an increased, consistent and certain level of funding for each Washington student, from Aberdeen to Seattle to Yakima and Spokane. It would also end the disparity between school districts caused by differing property valuations.
Nobody has proposed a more equitable approach.
For teachers, it calls for a generous increase in minimum pay, provides for housing allowances in high cost-of-living districts, and awards substantial bonuses for the best performing teachers. At the same time, it allows for the replacement of persistently low performing teachers. School districts are allowed considerably greater flexibility in both of these arenas. School closures are prevented by reaffirming a state prohibition on teacher strikes. Districts are allowed to hire qualified teachers from other professions without a formal teaching certificate.
Washington is among the worst in the nation in the dubious statistic of unexcused absences. The bill provides for a targeted attack on that shortcoming. And the proposal sets ambitious goals for the measurable increase in student learning and performances.
This set of educational reforms is patterned on that of Massachusetts, inaugurated 24 years ago. The results in that state has it in first place among all 50 states in progress on student achievement. When it comes to human achievement, no state has accomplished more. We can do the same in Washington.
Finally, because these changes are so dramatic, the entire system will be sent to the people of Washington in November, as a state referendum. All of us then will have a say.
We believe that the Senate Majority Caucus’ bill represents a huge step forward for Washington’s students. Let it go to the people for their opinion.