Inside Opinion

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Tag: public schools

July
8th

Levy swap is critical to state K-12 funding

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

On public school funding, lawmakers are right and their critics are wrong. The 2013 Legislature made a big step toward ample funding of public education by earmarking an addition $1 billion for the K-12 system.

Compliance with the Washington Supreme Court’s McCleary decision will require more, of course, but all the money was never going to materialize overnight.

One remarkable thing has been going unremarked.

The Legislature and supreme court are co-equal branches of government. Lawmakers conceivably could have brushed off McCleary the way Andrew Jackson once brushed off an 1832 ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court: Enforce your own damn decision.

Lawmakers instead worked in good faith to satisfy the Washington Constitution’s mandate that the state “make ample provision for the education all children rising within its borders.”

But Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn makes a fair point when he says the Legislature picked the “low-hanging fruit” to come up with that $1 billion.

The easiest fruit to grab was $354 million from the state’s public works account, which provides local governments with cheap loans for local water, sewer and street projects.

That’s one-time money. The Legislature must come up with something better for future bienniums.

One obvious place to go is the levy swap. The basic theory:

• Many districts are currently being forced to come up with 20 percent or more of their budgets from property tax levies that pass or fail depending on the mood of the taxpayers.

• The McCleary decision says all basic education money should come from the state – from a reliable source. Levies don’t count as reliable. (Raids on the public works account aren’t reliable, either.)

• Under the swap, the state would increase the property taxes it collects for schools, and districts would be required to decrease their levies accordingly.

• The switch would be roughly revenue-neutral. Taxpayers as a whole would pay no more, though there’d be some shift from the wealthiest districts (largely in King County) to poor ones.

Read more »

March
24th

Dollars alone won’t ensure first-rate public schools

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Last year’s McCleary decision is not just about money.

As the Washington Supreme Court noted 14 months ago, the state constitution mandates that the Legislature “make ample provision for the education” of all the state’s children.

What does “education” mean? The court defined it – logically – as “the basic knowledge and skills needed to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in this state’s democracy.”

It’s a question of quality as well as quantity.

You could spend fortunes feeding fast food to kids, and they’ll grow up malnourished. Likewise, the Legislature could dump another

$5 billion a year into the K-12 system without offering students the skills they need to survive in the 21st-century economy. More money is necessary, but not sufficient.

Lawmakers this year have been taking important steps toward improving the quality of public education in Washington.

One pair of bills would create a date certain – July 1, 2015 – for increasing state high school graduation requirements to 24 credits.

More important, the credits must mean something. The plan is to align graduation requirements with college admission requirements. Students shouldn’t just be given a piece of paper when they graduate; they need the intellectual tools to succeed in a four-year college, two-year college or technical-vocational program.

As things stand, many students – especially from low-income families – have only a foggy understanding of what college demands. They often wind up with a hodgepodge of credits that don’t add up to a marketable high school diploma.
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Jan.
19th

Are they ready for kindergarten? Finally, numbers

This editorial will appear in Sunday’s print edition.

The state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision has this year’s legislators scrambling to pump more dollars – and reforms, we hope – into the public schools.

A potential pitfall is that education will be defined too narrowly.

As far as the law is concerned, “basic education” is delivered from kindergarten through high school. That’s what the Legislature is constitutionally obligated to fund. But what happens before kindergarten – early learning – is at least as important. More so, for many students.

As a rule, kids who aren’t reading as well as their peers by the fourth grade are at great risk of eventually dropping out. Sadly, they often show up on the first day of kindergarten with disadvantages so great that only heroic teaching efforts can help them catch up.

And the same factors that hurt them before kindergarten – such as absentee dads, poverty, untreated illnesses and homes bereft of books – are often still dogging them in the early grades.

Statewide efforts to help these children have been plagued by a lack of information. Washington has had no system in place to track disparities in kindergarten readiness and do something about them. Until now.

Over the last two years, at the behest of the Legislature, early-learning specialists have been development the Washington Kindergarten Inventory of Developing Skills. WaKIDS, as it is called, aims to assist incoming kindergartners in several ways. It emphases parental education, for example, for moms and dads who want to prepare their children for academics but don’t know where to begin.

Just this month, it has also begun delivering precious hard numbers.

Despite longstanding concerns about achievement opportunity gaps, this state had never taken a close, statistical look at the needs of its kindergartners.

Under WaKIDS, kindergarten teachers are evaluating their new students against commonly accepted standards. For example: Can they write their own names? Are they familiar with books? Do they make friends?
Read more »

Sep.
11th

I-1240: An essential escape route from failing schools

This editorial will appear in Wednesday’s print edition.

We’ll let Initiative 1240 speak for itself.

The measure would authorize the creation of up to 40 charter schools, public schools freed from many bureaucratic regulations. They are commonly launched and governed by teachers and parents who believe their local schools are failing their students.

If enacted in November, the initiative would:

•  Give priority to charter organizers who want to serve disadvantaged children and students trapped in poorly performing traditional schools.

•  Require that charter schools comply with all state and federal nondiscrimination laws.

•  Allow them to specialize in teaching students at risk of academic failure, including children with disabilities or severe behavioral problems.

• Forbid any religious influence in admissions, hiring or instruction.

• Forbid them from charging tuition.

• Require that they be open to all students, with seats filled by lottery if demand exceeds capacity.

Read more »

April
23rd

Warn parents, kids when predators are classmates

This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.

School is supposed to be a safe harbor for students, not a place where sex predators can connect with them while posing as normal students. But that’s a real risk in Washington schools, as an outrageous Clark County case shows.

Jeremiah Thompson – a 19-year-old senior at Prairie High in Vancouver – was charged last week with raping a 14-year-old off campus on April 12. The girl reportedly had agreed to hook up with him at a nearby grocery store; whatever her intentions, she was well below the age of consent, and she sought medical care and a rape kit afterwards.

Let’s take a wild guess: She might have been less dazzled by Thompson if she’d known he was a registered sex offender, not just a senior interested in a freshman.
Another wild guess: Her parents might have warned her to watch out for him if they’d known he had a scary criminal record.

And scary it was. He’d been running into trouble with the law since he was 13. Three years ago, he was charged with molesting a 7-year-old girl and plea-bargained a lesser offense.

A month later, he sexually assaulted his mother, then assaulted his brother after he pulled Thompson off her.

Sweet guy. He was convicted (as a juvenile) of both crimes; after that, he repeatedly violated probation, failed drug tests and did stints in juvenile detention, according to the Vancouver Columbian.

Somehow, Thompson wound up being classified as a “Level 2” sex offender, a medium-risk category. Teenagers have a right to a public education regardless of their criminal histories. He wound up back in a regular school with access to every girl at Prairie High. No one warned his fellow students or their parents.
Read more »

Feb.
18th

Lawmakers finally take a step toward education reform

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

It rarely pays to get too hopeful about education reform in this state. But the Legislature – the Senate at least – has actually taken a major step toward accountability in Washington’s public schools.

Senate Bill 5895, which cleared that chamber Tuesday, requires the use of objective student-performance measures in the evaluation of teachers. It also requires that feedback from teachers be used in the evaluation of principals.

Teachers and principals can lose their jobs if they keep flunking the new tests. This turns Washington tradition on its head. In this state, it can take a felony to separate a faculty member from his or her job. Only the bravest administrators have dared tackle the convoluted, expensive process required to fire the incompetent.

Let’s not get giddy, though. The Senate’s move to tie “student growth data” looks impressive only in terms of the state’s benighted history. SB 5895 is not radical. It would not make Washington a leader in education reform. It would merely help the state catch up to the middle of the pack.

But the 46-3 vote in the Senate is impressive. Most education reform measures are throttled in committee. Once this one reached a floor vote in open daylight, lawmakers embraced it – if only to avoid shame in some cases.
Read more »

Feb.
8th

A public school accountability bill? Still a chance

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Education reform – serious education reform – remains alive in the Legislature. No thanks to the Legislature’s education chairwomen.

State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, and Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, have used their peremptory power to squish two measures that would have nudged Washington toward the national mainstream.

One bill would hold educators genuinely accountable for student performance; the other (now dead) would have authorized a limited number of charter public schools.
Both strategies are strongly encouraged by the Obama administration and have been embraced by states trying to shake public schools out of mediocrity. Both are opposed in this state by teacher unions and other stalwarts of the status quo.

As usual, the Legislature’s powers-that-be crouch like defensive NFL linemen, ready to tackle anything that might challenge the failing trade-union model of public education.

This year, though, McAuliffe had to deal with a bipartisan rebellion that effectively shut down her committee last week. A majority of the Senate Education Committee wanted to at least hold a vote on the charter school bill; when she refused, they refused to act on any other education legislation.

Credit is due the Republicans and Democrats who forced this crisis. And some credit is due the Senate leaders who revived the accountability bill – though not the charter bill – by shifting it to the Ways and Means Committee.
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Feb.
2nd

Poor? What poor? U.S. politics play to middle class

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

Mitt Romney doesn’t care about “the very poor”? He’s not alone.

Romney’s point – as he hurried to emphasize Wednesday after his awkward phrase popped out on CNN – was that the poorest Americans have a safety net while middle-class Americans are “struggling.”

His real sin was saying out loud what campaign strategists from both parties know: In American politics, it’s all about the middle. That’s true for the nation. By and large, it’s true for Washington state.

The middle class is where the votes are. People who want to win elections know that pandering to the broad socioeconomic center is how it’s done. Republicans tend to favor tax cuts; Democrats tend to want to sweeten entitlements for middle-income Americans. The poor can be an afterthought, if that.

The Republican Party since its inception has looked out for business and the financial sector. Fine: A free and dynamic economy needs champions of investment and private job-creation. Jobs – the best antidote to poverty – are byproducts of business expansion.

But many Americans get left behind, including people with disabilities and children who grow up in scary places with few opportunities. Too often, their problems are simply not on the conservative radar screen.
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