Archive for November, 2012

Committee Days explained

Olympia state houseCommittee Days. They may as well be called the red headed stepchild of the legislative process.

Right on the heels of the election, smack dab in the middle of the holiday season, and just before legislative session kicks off, it would be easy to overlook them.

However, Committee Days (11/28-11/30 this year), are something to keep an eye out for.  The purpose is fairly straight forward: Formally bring all new and incumbent legislators together in Olympia to receive their committee assignments, based upon previously submitted requests by legislators to leadership, for the upcoming session.

Mixed into this is also an orientation of sorts for new legislators and staff as well initial gatherings for each committee.  While no bills have dropped yet, this offers the opportunity for work sessions on issues that are likely to be brought up during session, as well as reports from task forces and workgroups that have been working since the close of last session.

The real action though is happening behind closed doors.

This is the time when strategy comes into the mix – deciding who will serve as committee chairs, who is being groomed for leadership positions down the road, balancing party representation on committees and, by doing so, potentially laying out the direction the upcoming session will take. These subtle shifts can have significant implications on the direction the legislature and the work advocacy groups, such as LEV, can accomplish this session.

In addition, these three days provide legislators and advocates a unique time to re-establish relationships with each other and talk candidly about issues without the pressure of specific bills and budgets looming overhead.

For many, this is when the real work begins, almost two months before the session! Look for a recap of the activity, shifts in committee placements and LEV’s take on what that means for Washington’s students next week.

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Education Supporters should be happy with Gov. Elect Inslee’s first decisions

Inslee Transition TeamNow that the cacophony of the election season is fading into the background we can turn our attention to the how the Governor elect is going to address the daunting tasks in front of him.

His appointment of the leaders of his transition team should give the education community reasons for optimism. All three represent different constituencies that are critical to implementing his education plans and have practiced wisdom and practical skill sets in areas of need in Washington State.

Mary Alice Heuschel is widely considered to be one of the most effective Superintendents in our State. The evidence clearly supports that contention. Renton, along with the other major urban districts in the Puget Sound region, face intense challenges as their student populations diversify rapidly both ethnically and economically. During her tenure Renton School District has made consistent and sustainable gains in reading, math and closing the opportunity gap for low income students in all academic areas. On her watch and under her leadership, Renton Public Schools has achieved double digit gains on all math and science tests, significant growth in reading achievement and increased graduation to over 94%, well above the state average. She has also lead a successful school turn around turning a struggling school into a thriving one. She has been a consistent and effective agent of positive change for our kids.

Elson Floyd has navigated very difficult waters sense he began at WSU in 2007. As State support for WSU has dwindled, he put his own compensation on the table reducing his salary by 100k. In addition to this significant and symbolic step, WSU has focused on ensuring completion and increasing access. By focusing on the unique needs of first generation college attendees and expanding access via University Centers at Community Colleges, WSU has become a leader in ensuring first generation college students succeed and that Washington State residents have more opportunities to access a world class education.

Brad Smith was a supporter of Rob McKenna during the campaign. He also has a history of working with both Republicans and Democrats as Smith fulfilled his duties as Microsoft’s senior executive responsible for the company’s corporate citizenship across the globe. In 2010 he chaired for Washington State Governor Christine Gregoire’s Higher Education Funding Task Force and in 2011 he helped advocate for the successful adoption by the legislature of the Task Force’s recommendations. This work included enabling tuition-setting authority for public universities and established the nation’s first private-public funded endowment to enable more students to attend college. In addition to his professional accomplishments, he has also volunteered with his wife, Kathy Surace-Smith, to lead the annual giving campaign for the United Way of King County, which is the largest in the country.

This trio brings a history of effective and innovative leadership that has had measurable impacts on Washington Students to the task of advising Governor Elect Inslee’s transition. Mr. Inslee called them “change agents” and the evidence is clear that he is right and supporters of public education should be thrilled with his first decision.

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Devastating cuts to early learning if congress doesn’t act

This blog post was written by Julia Warth, a graduate of the University of Washington-College of Education and the 2013 Citizen’s Report Card Project Manager for the League of Education Voters.

Yesterday, Congress came back into session to tackle the national debt. We’ve been here before. Congress tried, and failed, to come up with a solution to the federal deficit before the election break. And this time, if Congress can’t come to an agreement by the end of the year, there will be across the board cuts to all federal programs. This means that programs critical to our most vulnerable populations in Washington State will be cut—programs like Head Start.

Head Start makes an enormous difference in the lives of thousands of students in Washington State at-risk of starting school unprepared and falling behind. For example, in the Island/Skagit Head Start program, a quarter of students were at the expected developmental level in math and barely half were at the expected level in literacy at the beginning of the school year in 2011. By the spring, three-quarters of the students were at the expected level in math and 95% in literacy.[1]  These are huge gains that set students on the path to real educational success.

But if there are across the board cuts to the federal program budgets, 1,400 kids will be cut from Head Start in Washington State. That’s 1,400 kids that will start school under-prepared and 1,400 families that will struggle to help their kids succeed. These are families like that of a LEV organizer, whose daughter needed special education services and qualified for Head Start. After one and half years in Head Start, she started kindergarten without needing any sort of special education services and ready to succeed in school. Without Head Start, her family would not have been able to provide her with the preschool education she needed to be successful in school.

In addition to the benefits of Head Start programs for children and their families, high-quality preschool programs actually deliver benefits and cost-savings to society over the lifetime of a student. Children who participate in early learning and preschool programs are less likely to need special education services or repeat grades, which means cost-savings for schools and taxpayers. They are more likely to have higher incomes and are less likely to commit crimes later in life, which means higher tax revenues and lower criminal costs. These benefits can result in returns of up to $16 on every dollar invested in high-quality preschool programs.

Head Start and early learning programs are one of the smartest investments the government can make in our children’s and our country’s future. Contact your US Representative and Senators today by calling the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121. Tell them that across the board cuts will hurt our littlest learners, their families, and their communities.


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Postsecondary Education: Still A Long Way to Go in WA

This piece originally appeared on ParentMap on November 1st. It was co-written by Brenda Running, a mother of three who lives and works in Maple Valley as a classroom assistant providing literacy interventions for struggling learners and Jake Vela, a policy analyst for LEV.

We hear again and again how important education beyond high school is for our kids.

We know that getting a postsecondary degree — whether that’s a technical credential, an associate’s degree or a diploma from a four-year university — can significantly improve a student’s quality of life and earning potential.

And, we know that in today’s economy having a degree beyond a high school diploma is increasingly necessary for employment. In fact, a Georgetown University study projects that by 2018 two-thirds of all jobs in Washington will require some kind of postsecondary training.

We know all this, but Washington still has a long way to go in making sure all kids have what they need to succeed. Washington high schools are only graduating 74 percent of students. And once our kids graduate, having a high school diploma does not necessarily mean that they are prepared for what comes next. In 2010, 39 percent of graduates from Washington State high schools who enrolled in a Washington two- or four-year college required at least one class of remedial education.

Continue reading here.

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Why parents and the community should give their input on contract negotiations

This piece was written by Heidi Bennett, a parent-advocate with two students in Seattle Public Schools. It originally appeared on the Our Schools Coalition blog on October 25th. It was also published on ParentMap on October 26th.

What happens in our classrooms and school matters–it’s one of the most critical components of our children’s lives. More often than not, the school day and our children’s education are determined by the teacher and principal contracts – known as the “Collective Bargaining Agreement” or CBA. About every three years, representatives of Seattle Public Schools sit down with representatives of the Seattle Education Association—the teachers’ union–to negotiate their contract.

During the CBA negotiations, the schools and the union decide class size, the length of the school day, how teachers are hired and evaluated, how families can best interact with their school community, and much more.

At the beginning of the last round of negotiations, a group of community members came together to add their views. Made up of Seattle Public School parents, local employers, community volunteers and taxpayers, the Our Schools Coalition works to express the community’s voice in teacher contract negotiations, to advocate for our children, and to support teachers as professionals.

Together, we were able to share our priorities to district and union leadership and with other parents and people in our community. In September of 2010, the union and schools both agreed to a groundbreaking agreement which included nearly all of our proposals, and for the first time, connected student achievement to teacher performance in its evaluation process.

Read more here.

*Editor’s Note: The comment form mentioned in this piece is closed, but the need for parent and community input in contract negotiations is still an important and relevant message.

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