At the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for February: Heidi Bennett. Read more about her experience as a strong advocate for K-12 and Higher Education.
Heidi Bennett is one of LEV’s most involved and dedicated key activists. She first entered the activism arena when her kids were in preschool, at the turn of the century. Her big question: to send her children to public or private school?
Heidi Googled LEV, and connected with Co-founder Lisa Macfarlane. She has been working with LEV ever since – for about 15 years. Heidi recalls Lisa talking about her own kids, saying, “No matter where you send your kids, all kids deserve a great public school education.”
When Heidi moved from New York to Seattle for a better way of life, she never imagined she would be sacrificing her kids’ education. Joining local PTA and then Seattle Council PTA, she began speaking to PTAs in the Seattle area about how Washington schools compare to those in New York and other states, and how they need to advocate for better schools and better outcomes.
In 2006, Heidi gave her first testimony at a Washington state Senate hearing, emphasizing that we deserve to do better for our kids. She was so persuasive that a key Senator suggested that she do the opening prayer for the Senate.
Heidi’s activism took on a life of its own. She became heavily involved in the push for simple majority for school levies and fought hard for the Basic Ed “It’s Basic” campaign with Governor Chris Gregoire. She’s been the Legislative VP of the Seattle Council PTSA, board member and presenter for the Seattle Schools First levy campaign, and several years as the Regional Legislative Chair for Washington State PTA. She has reached hundreds of parents with her “What’s up with WA State Education” presentations and several years ago delivered over 5,000 postcards to Washington state Legislators and the Governor during WSPTA Focus Day. Heidi has also served on several district task forces/committees for highly capable, capacity, and others.
Lately, Heidi continues to engage and educate parents with education panels and PTA talks on Basic Ed. Her most recent panel last week in North Seattle included both high school issues and state funding, and featured Representative Noel Frame, the Government Relations Director of the Association for Washington School Principals, the Legislative Chair of the Seattle Council PTSA, Seattle School District officials, and the principal of Ballard High School. Heidi has educated hundreds of parents on why they need to advocate.
Heidi’s newest passion is higher education. “We’re getting priced out of higher ed. It costs $80-to-$90,000 to send kids to a Washington state college when you include room and board,” she says. “As wages are flat, even the middle class is getting priced out of a bachelor’s degree at a public, state school.” She put higher education on the state PTA platform two years ago and again last fall. This year, she expanded post-secondary advocacy to include community and technical college (CTC) certificates, while continuing to support the College Bound and State Need grants, and making both 2- and 4-year degrees more accessible. Heidi adds, “We need a regional college in the Seattle area, something that offers comprehensive Bachelor’s degrees without having to spend residential costs, similar to Portland State.”
“I want to see an expansion of career counselors in high school, so all students are aware of the opportunities for both a traditional of 4-year college track and other pathways,” she says. “Kids just don’t know there are job-ready career paths by earning CTC certificates or Associate’s degrees. We need to promote these options too to both students and families, and remove the stigma from alternative paths.”
Heidi grew up on Long Island and is a first-generation college graduate. She finished her degree at night, working full-time. She says, “You can’t do that in Seattle – there are not enough opportunities to earn an affordable degree at night at a less-expensive public college. I understand the challenges.”. Professionally, she cut her teeth in marketing on Madison Avenue, earned her VP title, and then moved to Seattle where she was the Director of Client Services for a downtown agency. She started consulting to focus on family life, and is winding down that chapter.
Heidi’s kids are recent graduates of the Seattle School District. Her daughter graduated from Ballard High School and is now at the University of Victoria. Her son graduated in 2016 through Running Start, and is now a rising senior at the University of Washington.
Noting that 70 percent of all jobs in Washington state will soon require a post-secondary credential, Heidi says, “If we want growth in our economy, we need to increase the current rate of only 31 percent of our 9th graders earning some type of post-secondary attainment to over 70 percent. We need to educate parents and students that not all jobs will require a 4-year degree.” To that end, she began advocating for Career Start, which allows students to earn a career certificate while still in high school, similar to Running Start that focuses on AA degrees. “Kids need to know ALL their options,” ” she says, “And the state needs to make them affordable.”
A big hello dedicated readers, it’s that time again. On Sunday two teams will line up and go at it for a championship. Yes! It’s Puppy Bowl XIII!!! The annual festival of cuteness featuring puppies “playing football.” And as if your heart couldn’t take any more, not one single little drop, they’re all – ALL! – up for adoption. OMG Becky look at that pup! This year’s event will feature special needs puppies – quick, someone tell Betsy DeVos! – including the ironically named “Lucky,” who has three legs. So if you grow tired of Super Bowl ads, or looking at the Patriots Coach who shall not be named, you have alternatives.
And now, the news:
The aforementioned Secretary of Ed nominee, Betsy DeVos, lost two key republican votes this week when Senators Murkowski (AK) and Collins (ME) both announced they would vote against her confirmation – despite voting to pass the confirmation out of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP). Her support for vouchers and her lack of experience with public schools were of critical concern to both senators. She also displayed a surprising lack of knowledge about federal laws on special education. With Murkowski and Collins in the “no” column, the vote count currently stands at a tie – one that will undoubtedly be broken by Vice President Pence in what would be an unprecedented tie breaker for a cabinet position. It looks like the vote may take place on Monday.
Closer to home, both the House and Senate now have education proposals, as does Governor Inslee. You can find a comparison of the plans here. After a hearing on Monday, the Senate’s already voted theirs over to the House (albeit along party lines). The Senate’s plan that was made public just as we went to hit “send” last week includes changes to the way we budget money, based on students rather than staff, makes big changes to the levy system and tweaks the state’s accountability system.
The House proposal invests more resources in programs that provide supports and interventions for kids including the Learning Assistance Program (LAP), the Transitional Bilingual Instructional Program (TBIP), and Career and Technical Education (CTE). The House also picks up the cost for compensation – a requirement of the Supreme Court ruling – and invests money in professional development for our educational workforce. The funds would flow in a manner similar to how they flow now, without the same guidelines that Senate Republicans put forward in their bill.
Superintendent Reykdal did double duty, issuing a statement and making an appearance at the Senate hearing. You can find him at the 50-minute mark of the hearing. You can also find Superintendent Reykdal here, in Podcast form. And just because I know everybody loves a treasure hunt, you can find all the education bill news here, on our bill tracker.
Other Ed News:
Other news that made the news this week:
Well, kids, that’s it for this week. And heck, it should be more than enough to see you through. Next week we will see further action on the education plans introduced in both chambers, we’ll hear about the importance of fully funding the State Need Grant, and someone famous will undoubtedly show us their baby bump. Good times.
Have a great weekend! And as always, thanks for all you do for Washington’s kids.
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League of Education Voters Communications Director Arik Korman sat down with Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal to discuss the K-12 education funding plans on the table, how to close the opportunity and achievement gaps, and how to create a statewide system of career technical education.
League of Education Voters intern MyKaila Young asks students at the University of Washington to share their education journey, what they learned along the way, and why it is important for every student to receive a quality education.
In McCleary v. State of Washington, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that because the state government is not providing sufficient education funding, it is violating the state’s constitution. Further, the Court found that inadequate funding from the state is leading to inequalities and disparities between wealthy and poor school districts, because some districts are only able to raise a fraction of the money through local levies as other districts, despite having a higher local levy tax rate.
The Court has ordered the state to address this issue by increasing education funding and reducing reliance on local levies to pay for teacher salaries and other basic education essentials. Estimates say that complying with the Court’s decision will require the state to spend an additional 1.5 – 2 billion dollars more per year on public education.
By Joyce Yee, LEV Community Organizer
The Kent School District’s Summer Splash Reading program is a pilot summer program to help students improve their reading literacy levels and skills, funded by the Race to the Top Initiative. The district is partnering with King County Housing Authority and Kent Youth and Family Services to provide support to families at the Birch Creek housing community.
Summer Splash began in the summer of 2015 and is scheduled to end in summer of 2017. The district provided three teachers to work with students grades Pre-K through 6th, Kent Youth and Family Services provided three classroom assistants, along with three older students who are in high school or alumni of the district, to help out. Students are divided into three classrooms, with 25 students in each.
While their main focus is on kindergarten readiness and improvement in reading literacy, Summer Splash uses a whole child approach. They use the American Reading Company curriculum, and students read factual material on topics such as science. The pre-kindergarten students sit together in a kindergarten academy that helps them with readiness for kindergarten, four hours a day for eight weeks. Older students in grades 1–6 work on improving literacy skills through reading texts and doing research reports, and meet 2 hours a day for 7 weeks.
The student demographic at Birch Creek is mostly Somali, Latino, Iraqi, Russian, Ukrainian, as well as Black/African American. The Kent Youth and Family support staff, and summer school coordinator intentionally recruited students from various ethnic backgrounds by knocking on families’ doors, going to Pine Tree and Millennial Elementary schools to hand out applications, and making phone calls to such families in order to get them to enroll their children in this program. Students in the program have already made measurable gains in reading test scores. Of the 75 students who participated, 66 completed pre and post assessments. All students who participated maintained and improved their grade reading level, average reading growth level was 0.19 years, 4th – 6th grade students had a higher average reading growth level of 0.28 years.
The Kent School District is also working on sustainability of the program after the Race to the Top funding goes away. In the first year, they recruited teachers who weren’t experienced at working with students from diverse demographics. In 2016, they recruited two district teachers from schools with demographics that reflect Birch Creek families, as well as one Kent Youth and Family Services (KYFS) teacher. This year, they will recruit only one district teacher, and two KYFS staff teachers. Professional development has been job-embedded for all staff members working with these students so that the program will be more sustainable.
During the year, Summer Splash provides afterschool homework help including reading and math. Older students are recruited to be reading buddies with younger students. This is in response to 2015 data showing that students were still 2–3 years behind grade level, and older students in grades 4 through 6 are embarrassed to ask for help. Older siblings and cousins read to younger kids. This approach helps the older students to avoid being embarrassed to read materials at lower grade levels with younger students and learn at the same time.
Shouldn’t programs like Summer Splash be part of basic education?
Read LEV’s blog post on Student Supports, an Integral Component of Basic Education
Well, that didn’t take long.
If you like your politics the same way you like your food – not to touch under any circumstances – then this was your week. Even as we’re going to press, the Senate Democrats are pursuing a floor takeover through parliamentary procedures. The podium grab is possible because the Senate Republicans are down a few men – you may have heard that the Senator Dansel has moved on to the Department of Agriculture and Senator Erickson is advising the EPA (apparently, he won’t be publishing studies on the website, or blogging about the effects of global warming). Dansel has left office, leaving an open seat, while Erickson is holding down two jobs for the time being and racking up frequent flyer miles. Should they prevail and are actually able to take action on the floor, the Senate Dems are looking to pass the levy cliff extension bill – a measure that passed the House earlier this week. The bill was also put on the Senate Ways and Means calendar for this coming Monday – a show of good faith or a pre-emptive maneuver to blunt the necessity of the take over? Oh, cynics. Stop it. (Little known fact about how I think about the word pre-emptive: think Carrie Underwood)
Meanwhile, progress is being made. Earlier this afternoon, Senate Republicans unveiled their education plan. The proposal could be heard early next week and includes a change to the way we allocate funds – from a focus on salaries and staffing to a student-centered approach – and doubles the resources into Career and Technical Education, among other things. There’s much to appreciate in this plan, which includes a bump in pay for starting teachers. You can find a side-by-side of the Senate proposal with Governor Inslee’s on our website here. Which, by the way is where you can find our bill tracker.
Theme of the week: there are quite a few bills that either change, eliminate or de-link our assessment requirements for high school graduation. Coupled with moves to reduce the high school graduation requirements, it raises concerns that we’re watering down our preparation and expectation of our kids at exactly the wrong time.
In other news:
Have a wonderful weekend. And happy Lunar New Year. Thanks for all you do for Washington’s kids.
House Democrats and the Senate Majority Coalition Caucus (MCC) have released bills to address the McCleary education funding lawsuit.
The House plan, HB 1843, would set a minimum salary of $45,500 for new teachers, and would slow the decrease of maximum local school tax levies from 28 percent of total state and federal funding, to 24 percent by 2021, instead of by next year as under current law. The basis for the calculations is changed, as well; and HB 1843 seeks to lower teacher-student ratios.
The Senate plan, SB 5607, sets a similar minimum starting teacher salary of $45,000, and the state would collect local property tax levies for schools, adding $1.4 billion per biennium to supplement education funding. Local districts could still raise additional money with voter approval, but the amount would be capped and could only pay for extras, not basic education.
See our side-by-side comparing fiscal elements of the House Democratic plan and the Senate MCC plan with the current funding system and Governor Inslee’s budget plan here.
By Joyce Yee, LEV Community Organizer
Seneca Family of Agencies began thirty years ago as a small residential treatment program for some of the most vulnerable foster youth in California. Now, Seneca works with over seventy school districts and charter public schools throughout California and Washington. Their model follows a team-oriented approach that helps build everyone’s capacity for an inclusive school environment to better serve students with trauma histories, mental health needs, disabilities or other barriers to success.
The philosophy of Seneca’s work comes from their experiences within and across public systems of care and in working with communities. They believe that the answers to even our communities’ most profound challenges can be found within individuals, and that parents are the primary experts on what works well for their children. And, they believe that designing schools that work for students who have historically struggled the most will result in schools that work for all students.
Lihi Rosenthal, Executive Director of Education at Seneca Family of Agencies, spoke about why some of these common sense strategies have not been widely implemented. “Because of how their funding streams are allocated, both Medicaid-funded mental health services for young people in need and special education services for children with disabilities follow a ‘fail first’ approach,” says Lihi. In other words, students have to struggle mightily after experiencing some sort of trauma before they can receive treatment and services to help them do better.
Once students’ difficulties rise to the level of crisis, then and only then are they cleared to receive expert help from qualified mental health specialists, special educators, and other transdisciplinary professionals. Yet, here again, treatment or services are reserved only for those who have already qualified for help, and are not made available to the school as a whole, even though there may be many other students who could benefit from them. According to Lihi, “The system tends to focus on the few students in crisis, rather than more holistically looking at delivering programs that might benefit all students.” As a result, families of students who struggle the most are often sent to multiple agencies located miles away from the school, decreasing the likelihood that individual interventions will carry over from closed-door therapy rooms into other domains of a young person’s life, from the classroom to the family dining room to the soccer field and the cafeteria.
In contrast, Seneca partners with schools to design interventions that are delivered not through isolated services, but which are integrated with a school culture of safety, belonging and academic curiosity. Wendy Durst, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Seneca Family of Agencies, says, “Seneca works with schools to design preventative and early intervention strategies that bring transdisciplinary experts out of their siloes and into the places where students spend the most time in schools – the hallways, lunch rooms, and their general education classrooms.”
This approach – Seneca’s Unconditional Education model – is currently being studied by SRI International, an external evaluator assigned to the program as part of a federal Investing in Innovation (i3) grant Seneca was awarded in 2013. After its first full year of investigation, the model has shown promising early results at the seven California schools included in the study, including statistically significant gains in literacy and math for students with disabilities and English Language Learners.
Shouldn’t this be part of basic education?
Read LEV’s blog post on Student Supports, an Integral Component of Basic Education
Ready or not: They’re baaaaacccckkk! Olympia is back in business. A lot has happened since last we were in session. There was that presidential election that you might have missed. I mean if you were in a cave. Or a coma. After a nearly two year campaign season, America has a new TOTUS! Our Tweeter of the United States has been busy building out his cabinet including Secretary of Ed pick, Betsy DeVos whose confirmation process is being delayed to allow for her to complete disclosures to the Senate. Expect a DeVos administration to support expanding school choice – including vouchers – and to turn the other cheek on most measures of accountability.
Closer to home, we have changes of our own, including new Committee Chairs and Ranking Members of Education for the House and Senate Republicans. And the loss of Andy Hill will be felt all over the place.
In addition, a new Superintendent of Public Instruction, Chris Reykdal, was sworn in this week. What’s not new? Oh, there’s lots of old familiar to be warmed by. Resolving the McCleary decision looms like that worn old recliner: to re-cover or replace, that’s the question. There’s a new rub to the story, though, as school districts are worried the state won’t address education funding quickly enough and school budgets will go over a “levy cliff” – expanded levy caps that will expire.
You can learn more about what we think by reading our latest blog series. And you can give some of your own input by visiting the Campaign for Student Success. In fact, it would be great if you’d join in the growing coalition to support more targeted resources for our kids.
While education funding is going to take up a lot of the oxygen in the room, there are a lot of other education issues that will be introduced and considered – you can find them all here on our bill tracker.
Thankfully, one thing we can always count on is you. Thanks for all you do for Washington’s kids – and all you’re going to do this session to ensure that our funding system helps our kids get the education and experiences they need to succeed.
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