League of Education Voters http://educationvoters.org Building a quality public education system from cradle to career. Wed, 22 Oct 2014 23:07:15 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Ensuring that all kids get a strong start in life http://educationvoters.org/2014/10/21/ensuring-that-all-kids-get-a-strong-start-in-life/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/10/21/ensuring-that-all-kids-get-a-strong-start-in-life/#comments Tue, 21 Oct 2014 20:23:31 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=23261 Thrive by Five WashingtonThe Walla Walla Valley Early Learning Coalition held its sixth annual Our Kids: Our Business luncheon today. Sam Whiting, President and CEO of Thrive by Five, spoke about the importance of high-quality early learning during the luncheon.

Sam also announced the results of a recent Thrive by Five survey of 400 registered Washington voters on public support for early learning, conducted by independent, non-partisan firm DHM Research in late September 2014.

The statewide survey was conducted by phone, with both land lines and cell phones, and has an overall margin of error of +/- 2.9 and 4.9 percent.

Thrive by Five learned that nearly all voters (92 percent) agreed that the first years of a child’s life have a significant impact on their ability to succeed in school and life, and nearly half of voters (49 percent) say the state should do more to help children begin kindergarten with the knowledge and skills they need to do their best in school. Moreover, most voters (74 percent) believe that children getting a strong start in life should be one of the state’s highest priorities. This is an increase in support from 48 percent five years ago.

In addition, eight in ten voters say that brain science and long-term impact makes the case for early learning. Washington voters clearly value early learning programs:

  • 76 percent of voters feel it is very or somewhat important for the state to fund an education continuum that spans from preschool through 2 years of college.
  • 67 percent of voters are in favor of expanding the definition of “basic education” to include early learning, so that state funding supports preschool for 3- and 4-year-old children in low-income families.
  • 63 percent support using state dollars to continue funding efforts to increase the quality of licensed childcare providers (Early Achievers).
  • 67 percent of voters support using state dollars to continue funding a better kindergarten transition process that engages all of the adults in a child’s life (WaKIDS).

A strong majority of voters across the political spectrum agree that when more children are ready for school, the state’s limited K–12 education dollars go further and create more opportunities for all children. Most voters (66 percent) look to tax breaks and targeted tax increases to pay for investments in early learning.

High-quality early learning, including preschool and full-day kindergarten, can significantly reduce and prevent gaps in later years, and it is one of the best economic investments we can make for our state. The League of Education Voters believes early learning is critical to a student’s success, which is why we fought, unsuccessfully, to include it in the 2009 re-definition of basic education.

We are proud to be working with partners like Thrive by Five to increase access to high-quality early learning for all kids.

Learn more about the survey results on Thrive by Five’s website.

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Tracy Sherman: A true leader and advocate http://educationvoters.org/2014/10/17/tracy-sherman-a-true-leader-and-advocate/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/10/17/tracy-sherman-a-true-leader-and-advocate/#comments Fri, 17 Oct 2014 16:00:15 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=23246 Tracy ShermanTracy Sherman joined the League of Education Voters (LEV) three years ago as a Policy Analyst. During her time at LEV, Tracy worked on numerous bills and issues, most with a focus on gap-closing strategies. She took a lead in policy work on high-quality early learning and transforming school discipline.

This past spring, Tracy took a lead role in work on school discipline, coordinating a coalition of organizations in the implementation of a 2013 school discipline law, SB 5946.

Tracy recently accepted a position at the Gates Foundation as a Program Officer of Postsecondary Communications and Engagement. Today is her last day at LEV.

Tracy is a proud product of public schools. She received a BA in political science with minors in business and legal studies from Washington University in St. Louis and an MA in political management from George Washington University in Washington, DC.

After spending almost a decade in the other Washington, Tracy decided it was time to move back home to the Pacific Northwest and continue education advocacy in a less partisan environment. She got her start in education policy working for several members of Congress. Her love of politics, passion for making the world a better place, and strong belief that we must improve education so we have a skilled workforce for tomorrow, brought her to LEV.

Amy Liu, Policy Director at LEV, spoke about Tracy’s contributions to LEV, saying, “Tracy has been an invaluable part LEV’s work to improve public education across the state. She brings to the table leadership, passion, analysis, and determination. We are excited for her as she takes on a new role but will also miss her presence in the office.”

Please join us in wishing the Tracy the best in her next endeavors at the Gates Foundation!

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Seven SVP Fast Pitch Finalists are championing innovation in education http://educationvoters.org/2014/10/13/seven-svp-fast-pitch-finalists-are-championing-innovation-in-education/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/10/13/seven-svp-fast-pitch-finalists-are-championing-innovation-in-education/#comments Mon, 13 Oct 2014 21:09:18 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=23235 By Steve Metcalf

Innovators in education have made an impressive showing so far in this year’s prestigious Social Venture Partners Seattle’s Fast Pitch competition. Of the 14 finalists, half focus on early, grade school, or higher education. Last year, only three educational organizations made it to the final round of SVP Fast Pitch.

SVP Fast Pitch is an annual competition dedicated to identifying and nurturing socially minded innovators in the Puget Sound region. Read more for a closer look at the seven finalists with an education focus that made it through the semi-final round on October 7. They will compete at the SVP Final Showdown on October 28 at McCaw Hall.


Club WhatClub What connects students with clubs and clubs with students. The mobile app lists schools and their student groups by category. Club What is a resource that allows students to find school clubs that interest and can be beneficial to them.


Edge Schools FoundationEdge Foundation promotes innovation in schools by helping students with challenges such as ADHD who may be frustrated, underachieving, or on the verge of dropping out. Coaches work with middle and high school students one-on-one to foster their academic success.


Pay It Forwardgraduation cap restores college access by replacing the broken tuition-and-loan system with a social insurance plan for higher education. Under the program, students would not have to pay tuition upfront while attending college. Instead they would contribute a percentage of their income after college, graduating with less debt.


Scholarship JunkiesScholarship Junkies is redefining educational access. With a students-helping-students model, scholarship recipients aid scholarship applicants in finding resources to cover the cost of their higher education.


SEEDSeed (Sustainable Education Every Day) is creating living, healthy, restorative classrooms that teach students about sustainable systems and strategies. The process leads to classrooms that can, among other things, produce their own water and energy, consists of non-toxic materials, and have daylight and urban agriculture.


Tiny Trees PreschoolTiny Trees Preschool uses outdoor classrooms to make quality education in reading, math, and science affordable and accessible to all families. By eliminating traditional brick and mortar classrooms, Tiny Trees can offer an enriching preschool education at 30-40 percent of the cost.


Unleash The BrillianceUnleash the Brilliance is a vibrant and exciting organization that offers an amazing alternative to truancy, bullying, peer pressure, and drug related activity. Young people reach out to their apathetic and at-risk peers through dance, music, theater, and personal testimonials.


You can show your support for these education innovators at the final Fast Pitch showdown later this month. All 14 finalists will compete in front of a crowd of hundreds on Tuesday, October 28, at Seattle’s McCaw Hall. Over $250,000 in grants and investments will be awarded. Audience members will also have a chance to vote on audience choice awards and ticket proceeds fund the prizes for the nonprofits. Purchase tickets on the Social Venture Partners website.

Steve Metcalf is a freelance writer and volunteer with the SVP Fast Pitch marketing team. He’s worked for 15 years in TV news, primarily as a producer at stations across the country.

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Kicking six-year-olds out of school http://educationvoters.org/2014/10/09/kicking-six-year-olds-out-of-school/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/10/09/kicking-six-year-olds-out-of-school/#comments Thu, 09 Oct 2014 18:00:34 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=22966 A preschool student at South Shore PK-8. (Photo copyright: Stefanie Felix.)Remember the one about the six-year-old who got kicked out of school for pecking a classmate on the cheek? That happened last year in Colorado, but the same sort of thing could happen in Washington state—and likely does.

A recent article in the Seattle Times by Claudia Rowe reports that 104 kindergartners and first-graders were suspended or expelled in Seattle alone in 2012–2013—the majority, for “other behavior.”

What “other behavior” means isn’t clear, but it includes any behavior other than weapons, fighting, tobacco, drugs, or alcohol. It includes things like being “disruptive” or “disrespectful”—and the harshness of the punishment is up to the individual teacher or administrator, regardless of the crime.

And when you’re six years old, being “disruptive” is often synonymous with “being six.”

There is also, Rowe writes, a “growing stack of evidence that shows that educators mete out punishments differently, depending on a student’s race.”

In Seattle, African American students are more than five times as likely to be suspended or expelled as their white peers. (By comparison, the national average shows that African American students are “only” three times as likely to be suspended or expelled.)

The League of Education Voters (LEV) began working on school discipline in 2011, after conversations with community members around the state brought to light just how punitive and permanent traditional discipline measures can be for students.

The research backed up our conversations from the field, and we found that students who are suspended or expelled are more likely to drop out of school, repeat grades, or end up in jail—often called the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

We spent much of the 2013 legislative session working with community partners and advocates throughout Washington to pass Senate Bill 5946 as a first step to transforming school discipline. SB 5946 makes discipline data public and limits the number of days students can be removed from class, keeping more students in school.

Our work with this statewide coalition continued through 2014, and we campaigned around the SB 5946 rules so that the law’s implementation would serve all kids well.

At the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) public hearing on the SB 5946 rules, LEV Foundation Board Member Dr. Thelma Jackson spoke. She testified that, “For too long, structural inequalities and institutional inequities have resulted in disproportionalities contributing to opportunity gaps, achievement gaps, miscarriages of justice, unfair treatment, and many instances of entry into the school-to-prison pipeline.”

Speaking with Rowe for the Seattle Times story, Dr. Jackson stated, “We must penetrate the chronic racial denial that this crisis exists.”

Through our work with partners passing and implementing SB 5946, we have ensured that:

  • Expulsions are limited to one year unless there are issues of public health and safety, in which case a school may petition the district superintended for an extension.
  • Suspensions are limited to one semester or trimester.
  • Emergency expulsions must end or be converted to another form of discipline within 10 school days.
  • Discipline data must be made public by OSPI, broken down by demographics, including race, socioeconomic status, and gender.
  • Reengagement plans and meetings must be developed for students to smooth their transition back into the classroom, tailored to each student’s circumstances.
  • A statewide taskforce has been created as a result of the law that will develop consistent definitions of discipline and an increased collection of discipline data.

These changes are an important first step in transforming school discipline—and helping to ensure that six-year-olds aren’t punished for being six.

Read more about our work on transforming school discipline on our website.

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Activists of the Month: Quontica and Marlando Sparks http://educationvoters.org/2014/10/07/activists-of-the-month-quontica-and-marlando-sparks/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/10/07/activists-of-the-month-quontica-and-marlando-sparks/#comments Tue, 07 Oct 2014 16:00:12 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=22949 Quontica & Marlando SparksAt 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 Activists of the Month for October: Quontica and Marlando Sparks. Read more about their experience advocating for parent engagement and their plans to open a public charter school for at-risk youth in Pasco.

Quontica and Marlando Sparks first testified about education in Washington state this past April, when they spoke about the impact of school discipline on families they worked with. But their involvement in education advocacy started much earlier.

For Quontica, it began when she was still a child. She was raised by her grandmother, who worked fulltime, along with a number of cousins. As the eldest grandchild, Quontica says she took on a role of caring of her brother and cousins, helping them with school, and even going to school conferences when her grandmother was not available. Quontica learned her way around the school system in order to advocate for her brother, cousins—and herself.

Quontica and Marlando have both worked for their school district, so they are familiar with the way the public school system works. Quontica says that they were two of a handful of African American staff members in the district and many parents in the community approached them for help and advice in navigating the system. Through word of mouth, Quontica and Marlando became the de facto experts in their community on parental rights and advocacy within the public education system.

LEV Community Organizer Micaela Razo learned of their work in the community and approached them to testify about school discipline to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). They also testified this summer about the College and Career Ready Diploma.

The latter was particularly meaningful to them, because Quontica and Marlando believe that parent engagement can be the deciding factor between a child’s success or failure. In their case, Quontica and Marlando’s oldest son had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and ran into a few obstacles with the special education system in school. In addition, the family lived in Oregon for two of the years that their son was in high school, and the coursework their son completed in Oregon did not align with Washington state curriculum. “The only way he made it through high school and moved on to college,” says Quontica, “is thanks to his determination and our unwavering engagement and involvement.”

But Quontica says they reflected on more than their own children or their own experiences in developing their testimony: “At my job in the district office, I watched so many kids trying and failing to make it through. Their stories all too often had a sad ending, and I want to change that.”

Quontica and Marlando want to work to help more kids succeed, and they plan to achieve that dream by opening a public charter school that focuses on at-risk youth. “When you look at ‘at-risk,’ it doesn’t start in middle or high school—’at-risk’ starts at birth. We want to help children and their families from the very beginning. It’s going to take all of us to make a difference.”

Quontica and Marlando plan to provide wraparound services for families and their children from preschool through high school, with every graduating student completing high school prepared for college. They have applied to the Washington State Charter Schools Association’s Leadership Center and will learn mid-October if they have been selected for a fellowship.

Regardless of what the future holds for Quontica and Marlando, you can rest assured that they will be engaging with, and advocating for, parents and youth throughout their community—and throughout the state.

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Celebrating our Q3 Donors http://educationvoters.org/2014/10/06/celebrating-our-q3-donors/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/10/06/celebrating-our-q3-donors/#comments Mon, 06 Oct 2014 21:00:59 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=22959 July 1–September 30, 2014

Thank you!Donations are made to the League of Education Voters (LEV) and the League of Education Voters Foundation by individuals, groups, and businesses throughout the community. These generous donations from those who believe in high-quality public education allow us to ensure measurable progress toward LEV’s vision that every student in Washington state has access to an excellent public education that provides the opportunity for success.

Below are our donors from the third quarter of 2014, July 1–September 30. We regret any omissions or errors to the donor list. Please contact our Development Manager, Jackie Schultz, by emailing jackie@educationvoters.org or by calling 206.728.6448 with any questions or to correct any information.

Thank you to all of our donors!

Donor Names
AFT Washington; AFL-CIO Heidi Bennett Jim Berry
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Connie Brennand James and Gretchen Faulstich
Jane Fellner Marianne Heywood Janet Levinger and Will Poole
Lucky Seven Foundation Tre Maxie Margaret Moore
Northshore Council PTA Kathleen Pierce Pyramid Communications Inc.
Renee Russak David Schaefer & Patricia Moriarty
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LEV Board votes to support Initiative 1B, the Seattle Preschool Program http://educationvoters.org/2014/09/30/lev-board-votes-to-support-initiative-1b-the-seattle-preschool-program/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/09/30/lev-board-votes-to-support-initiative-1b-the-seattle-preschool-program/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 19:00:58 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=22925 Frank Ordway

Frank Ordway

The League of Education Voters (LEV) has been dedicated to high-quality early learning since our inception 13 years ago. We know that high-quality early learning can significantly reduce and prevent gaps in later years and have seen this first-hand through our support of South Shore PK–8 in Seattle.

In considering the two early learning proposals that will be on the November ballot in Seattle, we found a lot to like in both. Unfortunately, the reality of how the measures will be placed on the ballot means that if you approve Seattle supporting early learning, you have to choose one measure or the other—not both.

For the LEV Board, that choice is 1B, the initiative supported by Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and the Seattle City Council.

Initiative 1B, which is based on best practices, will fund voluntary preschool for 2,000 children ages 3 and 4 in 100 high-quality classrooms by 2018. Lead teachers will be required to have, or be working toward, a Bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and will be paid on par with Seattle Public Schools kindergarten teachers. Most importantly, this modest plan will extend essential services to kids who would not otherwise receive them.

LEV agrees with many of the goals expressed in Initiative 1A, supported by our partners SEIU and the American Federation of Teachers. We agree that the cost of quality childcare is prohibitive for too many families. We have been consistent supporters of increased subsidy rates for childcare workers, who are demonstrably underpaid. We have championed access to training and professional development for our childcare workers. We also support childcare workers having direct input and influence over the standards that govern them.

But as a practical matter, the pay, training, and regulations that govern how childcare operates in Washington is entirely governed by Olympia and Washington, DC. Our state has spent more than $150 million over the past four years building a high-quality early learning system for Washington, including funding for technical assistance, professional development, and coaching for childcare providers across the state. We believe the best place to ensure that ALL childcare workers in our state are adequately trained and compensated, and that quality childcare is affordable to all citizens, is by continuing to support those policies in Olympia.

Please join LEV this November in supporting the Seattle Preschool Program. Learn more at http://www.seattle.gov/office-for-education/about-the-levy/early-learning/seattle-preschool-program.

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LEV Board votes to oppose I-1351: There is no silver bullet http://educationvoters.org/2014/09/30/lev-board-votes-to-oppose-i-1351-there-is-no-silver-bullet/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/09/30/lev-board-votes-to-oppose-i-1351-there-is-no-silver-bullet/#comments Tue, 30 Sep 2014 16:30:11 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=22932 Chris Korsmo, CEO, League of Education Voters

Chris Korsmo

The League of Education Voters (LEV) Board voted last week to oppose Initiative 1351, a statewide class-size reduction initiative on the November ballot.

Our founders authored and passed Initiative 728 in 2000, and LEV has always supported class-size reduction as one necessary, but not sufficient, gap-closing strategy for grades K–3 and high-poverty schools. Nine years later, we endorsed the re-definition of “basic education” developed by our State Legislature, which includes smaller class sizes of 17 in grades K–3 upon which McCleary v Washington is based.

So, given LEV’s history and commitment to smaller class sizes, why are we opposing I-1351?

We believe the pathway to providing a high-quality public education for all students begins with identifying and funding what works.

We know there is no single silver bullet that will close the opportunity and achievement gaps for Washington students. We believe I-1351 will preclude our ability to make investments in other proven strategies, such as early learning and college readiness.

High-quality early learning, including preschool and full-day kindergarten, can significantly reduce and prevent gaps in later years. LEV believes early learning is critical to a student’s success, which is why we fought, unsuccessfully, to include it in the 2009 re-definition of basic education.

Academic acceleration is another proven strategy to raise the academic achievement for all Washington students. Instead of just catching kids up, it pushes them forward. In Federal Way, the school district increased the number of low-income and minority students taking upper-level courses (Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses) by 2.5 times over a four-year period while holding exam passing rates steady.

As the leader of Washington’s only statewide advocacy organization that works to improve public education from early learning through higher education, I know that our state has the people, the resources, and the innovative spirit to create the best public education system in the world. But it’s going to take tough decisions from each of us to make it a reality.

This fall, we are talking with policymakers, community members, parents, and educators across Washington to discuss our vision for a high-quality public education system from cradle to career. I invite you to join us.

To learn more or join us at these meetings, please contact our State Field Director Kelly Munn.

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Parent engagement is key http://educationvoters.org/2014/09/25/parent-engagement-is-key/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/09/25/parent-engagement-is-key/#comments Thu, 25 Sep 2014 17:16:58 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=22918 Maria EstradaThe League of Education Voters’ September Activist of the Month, Maria Estrada, submitted a guest op-ed to the Seattle Times that was published this morning: “New graduation rules will help all parents get more involved.”

An excerpt from the op-ed is below:

Parent engagement is key to helping students make good decisions about their future and successfully achieve their dreams, particularly during students’ high school experiences.

But for me, parent engagement isn’t just about what I can do for my daughter. It’s also about what I can do to benefit all children.

My daughter Paulina and I moved to Washington from Mexico a few years ago. The language barrier made it difficult for me to understand how the school system worked or what classes my daughter was enrolled in.

Parents need to be engaged, but they also need accessible information about their child’s education. From personal experience, I can tell you that remaining engaged in your child’s education isn’t possible when you’re struggling to understand complex, bureaucratic information in a foreign language.

Read the entire article on the Seattle Times website.

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Summer Internship Profile: Raymond Fenton http://educationvoters.org/2014/09/18/summer-internship-profile-raymond-fenton/ http://educationvoters.org/2014/09/18/summer-internship-profile-raymond-fenton/#comments Thu, 18 Sep 2014 18:00:11 +0000 http://educationvoters.org/?p=22895 The League of Education Voters (LEV) benefits from the help, expertise, and hard work of summer interns. We recently interviewed our field intern, Raymond Fenton, who is pursuing his degree at Lewis & Clark College. Read more about his background and his experience at LEV, in his own words.

Raymond Fenton during his internship at the League of Education Voters.

Raymond Fenton during his internship at the League of Education Voters.

What was the focus of your internship at LEV?

As an intern, I did a lot of basic administrative work, like answering phones, taking messages, and documentation. However, I also had the opportunity to work on high-stakes tasks. For example, I played a major role in the preparation and support for the State Board of Education’s public hearing on the rules for the College and Career Ready Diploma and the Parents Partnering in Education Summit in Sunnyside, Washington.

Preparing for these events included inter-departmental meetings, and a lot of planning, visual design, and interpersonal communication on my part. While at the events, along with making sure that everything was running as planned, I took photos and live-tweeted. I also prepared for these events through blogging, sending press releases, and sending email blasts.

While interning, I also conducted research and wrote reports for LEV’s policy and field departments. In one of these reports, I had the opportunity to use both my quantitative and qualitative analysis skills to analyze each presenter’s success after the Parents Partnering in Education Summit.

Toward the end of my internship, I had the chance to create a strategic plan to launch an ad campaign. That was fun, difficult, and confusing at the same time, but it allowed me to start relationship building with other organizations around early learning. Finally, I brushed up on my interviewing and data collection skills through story-banking exercises as well as through some videography work.

How did you first hear about LEV?

I learned about LEV while doing some activist work on my college campus. I led a group of students to take a stand against inadequacies in cultural competency in Lewis & Clark’s administration and contacted one of the college’s donors with the hope that her voice might make our stand stronger. After speaking with the donor, Janet Levinger, who also happens to be LEV’s Board President, Janet recommended that I connect with LEV regarding a summer internship.

I wanted to learn how to be more proficient in organizing social change and thought that it would be a great idea to see and learn how the “professionals” did it.

What has been your favorite part of interning with LEV?

The best part of my internship was seeing the State Board of Education amend or uphold the rules regarding the College and Career Ready Diploma in favor of the appeals made by LEV, its partners, and members of the public. It was also great to see the final results of work (that sometimes seemed menial) that I had been doing from day one and to know that I had been a part of that change. It definitely empowered me to continue and to work even more earnestly.

The best part about working at LEV was the people. Each person was very different, but very good at what they do. I’m grateful for the learning experience and life-long lessons of empowering individuals to make change.

What are you up to next?

I get to go be a student at Lewis & Clark College again and kick it with the homies. For this semester I plan on auditioning for the musical, Spring Awakening. And there might be a presidential campaign in my future.

When I grow up I want to be an influential and celebrated member of society, bringing forth positive change wherever I go.

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