Archive for February, 2013

Washington Supreme Court sides with kids and schools, strikes down I-1053

In a decision released today, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that I-1053, the law that requires a two-thirds majority to pass revenue in the legislature, is unconstitutional. This ruling is a huge win for kids and schools.

LEV and its partners challenged the law in court because it hamstrung our legislators’ efforts to uphold their paramount duty to invest in the quality public schools our children need to succeed in life.  Our kids suffered at the hands of a small minority of legislators who could veto any new revenue options for education.

This decision comes at the perfect time–our legislators are working right now to develop a plan to fully fund K-12 education. This ruling puts all options on the table. We all want what is best for our students, but year after year, thanks in part to Initiative 1053, the legislature has not provided the funding to pay for basic resources need to educate our students.

We hope today’s Supreme Court ruling provides the tools and opportunity for the legislature to craft a funding plan that ensures that there is ample, equitable, and stable funding for education.

Washington citizens have consistently supported initiatives that would make it difficult to raise taxes, including I-1185, an initiative similar to I-1053 that passed this fall. We believe today’s ruling applies to I-1185 as well.

While voters believe that taxes should be difficult to raise,  it does not mean they believe it should be impossible. When voters can see their money well-spent, they come out strongly in favor of providing for their schools. Earlier this month, voters in school districts across the state committed more than $1.7 billion to their local schools through school levies. Further, during the past two years, local voters have approved $4.3 billion in local levy funding. The levies were approved with a large majority–an average 63 percent of the vote–in 204 school districts across the state.

Today’s Supreme Court ruling is another step in the right direction to making sure all of our state’s students have access to an excellent education that is amply, equitably and stably funded.

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Washington voters pass $1.7 billion in taxes for education

More than 50 local school boards put their school’s funding into the hands of the voters during last Tuesday’s election and voters responded with overwhelming support. Voters approved all but one local levy across the state, committing $1.7 billion in taxes to their schools.

“Voters passed these taxes because they know the money is going directly to helping kids,” said Chris Korsmo, CEO of the League of Education Voters. “Voters stepped up for their local schools, and it’s time we stepped up for schools across the state.”

Although a frequent theme of last year’s governor’s race and this year’s legislative session is that voters will not support revenue to pay for education, local election results stand in stark contrast to that narrative.

In many districts, local levies make up 25 percent or more of the total operating costs of their schools. These local dollars often pay for necessary school costs like staff salaries, textbooks, or a sixth period in school—a far cry from the “extras” they were originally intended to provide.

In January 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in McCleary v. Washington that the state was not meeting its constitutionally mandated duty to fully fund basic education. The court ordered the Legislature to overhaul how education is funded in the state by 2018.

Update: Election results finalized Feb. 26 show that two levies, not one, failed to pass in their districts, resulting in a 96 percent levy passage rate overall. In addition to the Battle Ground Maintenance and Operations Levy, the La Center Capital Levy did not pass. School boards across the state requested $1.8 billion in local levies and local voters granted $1.7 billion.

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Founder of Post-Prison Education Program testifies in favor of SSB 5244 to transform school discipline

This is the written testimony of Ari Kohn, the founder and president of the Post-Prison Education Program. Ari testified in favor of SSB 5244 to transform school discipline on February 12, 2013. 

Members of the Senate Ways &Means Committee:

I’m Ari Kohn; founder and president of the Post-Prison Education Program, a non-profit organization that works to dramatically reduce recidivism by harnessing the power of education and meeting the legitimate needs of former prisoners. The Post-Prison Education Program provides access to education and unwavering support through wrap-around services including tuition, housing, groceries, daycare and intensive mentoring.

For the seven years we’ve existed, our non-profit has worked only with adult prisoners who have the most difficult cases: serious mental illness, addiction, and long lists of felony convictions are some of the issues we address. Yet, our recidivism rate is less than two percent. Ninety-eight percent of the adults we serve successfully transition into productive lives, often pursuing and finishing college degrees in the process. They succeed because we invest.

On the other hand, today the Department of Corrections lists a 46% re-admission rate.  It’s almost comical; after talking in terms of “recidivism” since 1999 they have switched and now talk about “readmission.”  Regardless of which term you use, the fact is for every two people who walk out of a Washington State prison today you can bet that one of them is going back (46%).  The way we’ve overcome that statistic and found success is by investing in people.

We don’t care what it takes, we urge you to invest now, invest in these young kids today, because we know if you wait until adulthood to address the issues many prisoners struggle with, costs grow exponentially. Our program uses the small budget we have with maximum impact. We deliver the services and resources former prisoners need – including counseling, tutoring, tuition, daycare, books and software, in-patient care and basic life needs such as food and housing – because we know our investment will pay off in saved lives, reunited and strengthened families, generally with lives worth living.

The one thing we believe above all others in regard to these young kids is invest now – invest, invest, invest.  It will pay off (even in the short term).  I have noticed that people are taken aback by the costs associated with keeping more kids in school, but we have seen over and over again that the cost to implement a preventative infrastructure is nowhere near the tremendously high costs associated with helping adult prisoners attempt to successfully re-enter our communities.

In almost all cases we’ve found that if you invest in people they will respond positively and in a way that leads to saved families and safer communities.  In closing, I can only emphasize to you that kicking kids out of school at the drop of the hat, as is being done throughout the state, is as far a cry from investing in somebody as you can get.  If doing so is allowed to continue, we will all pay a very high price, and continue to see very sad results.

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Supporting our littlest learners – two early learning bills that can make a difference

In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama highlighted the importance of early learning. He noted that the early years of a child’s life are the most important for establishing the foundation for success in school and in life. In addition to the economic benefits, he emphasized that children from all backgrounds benefit when they attend high quality early learning programs. These programs especially help students who might otherwise start school behind, particularly students from low-income families. In his speech, the president proposed an expansion of access to preschool by offering incentives and support for states that want to grow their early learning programs.

Washington state has been consistently making positive steps when it comes to early learning. In fact, last year Washington won a Race to the Top – Early Learning Challenge grant to expand its excellent work in early learning.  Our legislature has already made the commitment to provide preschool for all eligible low-income children by 2018.

Right now there are two bills in the legislature that can even further help our youngest learners and continue our leadership in early learning. One bill (HB 1723) will establish an integrated program called “Early Start” that will provide services such as preschool and childcare to low-income infants to five year olds. The other (SB 5595, HB 1671) will improve the Working Connections Childcare program to make sure that eligible low-income children receive high quality childcare.

Both of these bills will benefit children, parents, and our state. The bills integrate services and work to ensure that eligible children get the resources they are entitled to. In addition, these early learning programs save the state money in the long-term because they lower costs by decreasing referrals to special education services, decreasing grade repetition, and increasing graduation rates.

These bills work to ensure that our students start school ready to learn. They help level the playing field for our most vulnerable students, giving them a greater opportunity for success. Investments in early learning are some of the best we can make. These bills will help make sure we’re getting the most out of our investments so all of our students can succeed.

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School Suspensions & Expulsions: The tipping point to dropout, delinquency, and lifelong poverty

The recently released Appleseed report “Reclaiming Students,” found that tens of thousands of children are removed from school by “exclusionary” discipline annually. These students are disproportionately students of color and students from low-income homes. The report called exclusionary discipline practices “high-risk and high-cost approaches” that constitute “a tipping point leading toward dropout, delinquency, and lifelong poverty.”

While there are the obvious comparisons of what it costs to educate a Washington student enrolled in public school ($6,307 in state funding for 2010-11) and what it costs to educate an incarcerated student (between $8,833-$58,310 for 2011-12), there are also significant economic impact data that policymakers must consider.

During the 2009-10 school-year, roughly 800 students left school permanently due to a discipline incident.

But what if those 800 students stayed in school? What would be the impact on our state’s economy?

According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, the economic impact would be noticeable. A thousand additional high school graduates would “support 80 new jobs in the state, increase the gross state product by $16 million, and pour an additional $1.2 million annually into state coffers” through the new graduates’ increased spending and investments.

Keeping kids who have been disciplined in school, instead of letting them drop out, also creates a “social savings” according to researchers at the University of California Berkeley. The savings is a result of crime reduction associated with high school completion. The researchers estimate that a one percent increase in male high school graduation rates would save $2,100 per additional graduate.

Tomorrow, the Senate Ways & Means Committee will hear SSB 5244 to transform school discipline. The policy case is clear: kids can’t learn if they aren’t in school. The League of Education Voters believes the economic impact on our state of keeping kids in school is equally clear.

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Op-Ed: Do right by Washington families and save GET program

This Op-Ed was written by LEV board member Sarah Merkel Reyneveld and was originally published in the Tacoma News Tribune on February 7, 2013.

Higher education is facing a funding crisis in the United States today. In Washington state, the recession and state budget cuts have dealt a blow to higher education funding. In light of severe funding challenges, our state should be doing everything it can to preserve – not eliminate – programs that enable families to afford college.

The Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) Program, Washington’s prepaid college tuition savings plan, is a critical savings tool for middle-class families. Purchasing GET accounts – which are guaranteed to keep pace with tuition – allows Washington residents the opportunity to start saving early for the costs of their children’s higher education.

Currently 86 percent of GET students use their units to attend higher education institutions in our state. Washington’s GET program is the second-largest prepaid tuition plan in the country, with participants in every county in the state.

As the state’s share of higher education has decreased from 70 to 30 percent today, funding the cost college of has fallen on the backs of students and their families in the form of dramatic tuition increases. With tuition and fees nearly doubling between 2008 and 2012, Washington’s public higher education institutions are rapidly becoming out of reach for some families and students.

Continue reading here.

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LEV supports WaKIDS implementation

LEV was pleased to sign in today in support of HB 1369 to support the WaKIDS implementation. WaKIDS is a kindergarten readiness process that helps kids and their families transition into school and ensures that they get a great start in kindergarten. It is a critical part of Washington’s commitment to education and high-quality early learning.

WaKIDS welcomes families to school by having kindergarten teachers meet with them one-on-one to learn about their child. It also includes a whole-child observational assessment in the first seven weeks of school, which helps teachers learn about students’ strengths and challenges. In addition, WaKIDS shares information with early learning providers to help improve the transition into kindergarten for students and families.

HB1369 will allow kindergarten teachers to use up to 5 days at the beginning of the year to meet with families. This will give teachers the time they need to start forming partnerships with kindergarteners and their families.

Learn more about WaKIDS here.

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Seattle Public Schools honors LEV-South Shore partnership

At the school board meeting on February 6th, Seattle Public Schools honored the partnership between the League of Education Voters Foundation and South Shore School in south Seattle. South Shore Principal Keisha Scarlett, LEV CEO Chris Korsmo, and LEV Board Member Chris Larson were there to accept the honor.

While being recognized, LEV CEO Chris Korsmo said, “[South Shore] is a great lesson about investing in our earliest learners [and] prioritizing our scarce resources…we’ve accomplished a lot over our 3 years.” Many of the school board members agreed. Director Martin-Morris said that whenever he travels and meets with people in the education field he always brings up South Shore, stating, “Thank you for creating a model that I know a lot of people are looking at nationally.” Director Carr sees great potential in the South Shore model as well, stating, “We have a terrific opportunity [to take] what we’ve learned and leverage that and replicate. It’s a good opportunity for us to do more.” Director DeBell added, “[South Shore] demonstrates how all children can learn given the right circumstances.”

Read more about the LEV-South Shore partnership here.

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Keep higher ed accessible and affordable for all Washington students

Six out of 10 Washington high school students currently go directly to a two- or four-year college following high school graduation.

Research tells us that without some form of postsecondary education, today’s students will find it difficult to earn a living wage. By 2018, two-thirds of the jobs in Washington will require a college degree or career credential.

Yet in the last decade, the cost of going to college in Washington has sky-rocketed. The average price of tuition has gone from 5 percent to 11 percent of median family income. Increasing tuition costs require more students to take out larger student loans to cover the cost of their college degrees. This financial burden can prevent many low- and middle-income students from pursuing higher education and create more barriers to college completion. The continued increase in the number of students needing to take out student loans means that college is becoming more unaffordable for Washington families.

“If changes are not made, we face the serious risk to our economy and democracy of creating two Washingtons — not divided by the Cascades or political parties — but based on educational achievement,” according to a recent report by the Washington Student Achievement Council.

The League of Education Voters is committed to keeping higher education accessible and affordable for all Washington students. During this legislative session, we are working with our partners to protect student aid and expand access to quality post-secondary learning opportunities.

Keeping college affordable can take many different forms in our state, including harnessing rising tuition and ensuring that there are supports in place to help students and families pay for school.

Washington’s GET (Guaranteed Education Tuition) plan is the state’s only college savings tool and one of the only state programs aimed at helping middle class families send their kids to college. It must be preserved. Mend it perhaps, but don’t end it.

For low-income students, Washington’s College Bound Program covers tuition and a modest book allowance for students who attend a Washington two- or four-year college. Over 88,000 Washington State students have enrolled in the College Bound Scholarship program since its inception in 2007. College Bound must be maintained. It is an important tool to closing the higher ed opportunity gap.

During this legislative session, we must do more – not less — to help our students access high-quality postsecondary opportunities so that they are prepared to meet the requirements of Washington’s demanding job market.

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