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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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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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