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Rethinking Our Education System

By the LEV Policy Team

Children standing in front of a chalkboard - League of Education VotersIn the 2017 legislative session, Washington state is poised to make historic investments in basic education. But what will those dollars buy? The current program of “basic education” is not robust enough to meet our “paramount duty” and ensure that all students have the knowledge and skills to compete in today’s economy and participate in our state’s democracy. The upcoming investment provides an unprecedented opportunity to rethink our system of education and the resources and tools at our disposal to provide Washington students with the education promised by our Constitution.

What is required of our educational system will continue to change over time. We need to develop a program of basic education that can evolve based on current and future student needs and a funding mechanism that is flexible enough to support that shifting program. Let’s envision a program of basic education that is aspirational and that creates a new path forward for Washington state. The vision should include best practices, teaching and instruction that closes achievement gaps, supports that allow students to be the best learners, a program that doesn’t start with kindergarten and end with high school, but consists of the full education continuum—early learning through postsecondary.

Ample and equitable funding is necessary to build a robust education system that works for all children. However, money is a tool, not a solution. New dollars should be seen as a tool to improve our system for all students. We believe that this can be done by rethinking how we:

  • compensate teachers and staff
  • leverage funding and human resources according to meet student needs
  • recruit, retain, and train teachers
  • provide additional student supports
  • measure the effectiveness of our investments and improve practice

How should we redefine basic education? Well, we don’t have to look far. There are programs and practices across our state that are working but need the proper investments in order to be sustained and spread to other schools and districts. Over the next few months, we’ll share how money can be used as a tool to fix teacher compensation; recruit, retain, and train qualified teachers; and add necessary student supports that yield positive outcomes and close achievement gaps. We’ll also share stories from around the state on how districts, community-based organizations, and citizens are closing gaps and subsidizing “basic education” with local resources. Asking the paramount question: How can money be used to go beyond our current basic education?

#BeyondBasic

Read Part 2 of our McCleary blog series, Teachers: The Most Important Part of Our Education System

Posted in: Blog, Career and College Ready Diploma, Closing the Gaps, Early Learning, Funding, Higher Education, Teacher Prep

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Finding a way forward

Finding a way forward. At the League of Education Voters, we believe a student’s education should be a continuum with seamless transitions. 2014 was a successful year as we worked to improve public education throughout Washington state. We are pleased to release our 2014 annual report, Finding a way forward, and we invite you to read highlights from the past year.

In 2014, we also released our vision, A way forward, which calls for a new definition of basic education that includes early learning, strategic investments in K–12 education, and at least two years of postsecondary education for each Washington student.

While some may suggest that this definition is more than we can afford, we believe that we can’t afford not to make this investment. Too many kids arrive at kindergarten already behind. At the other end of the education spectrum, all evidence points to the need for a postsecondary degree or certificate in preparation for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

A high-quality public education system from early learning through higher education is critical to ensuring a strong home-grown workforce and state economy.

Washington state has the people, resources, and 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. During 2015, we are engaging policymakers, community members, parents, and educators across the state to discuss this vision and how, working together, we can make it a reality.

We invite you to join us.

Read or download our 2014 annual report.

Posted in: Development, LEV News

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A Way Forward: We can and must do better for Washington’s students

A child’s education should be a continuum with seamless transitions from early learning through postsecondary education. The League of Education Voters (LEV) is pleased to release its vision for an expanded definition of basic education.

Washington’s policymakers have spent much time, money, and intellectual capital trying to overhaul our state’s education funding system—multiple task forces, studies, work groups, legislative efforts—and yet, we lack a plan for ample, equitable, and stable funding. In addition, our definition of “basic education”—what this funding system is supposed to pay for—doesn’t go far enough to prepare our kids for college or career.

A Way Forward: We can and must do better for Washington's students. January 2015

A Way Forward

The Washington State Supreme Court found that the state was violating its constitutional obligation to amply fund basic education in the McCleary v. State of Washington funding case. Lawmakers were given a 2018 deadline to fix how we fund basic education. The passage of Initiative 1351 to lower K–12 class sizes statewide magnifies the intense pressure on the Legislature to determine a viable funding plan for public education. Though the 2018 deadline looms, the Court found the Legislature in “contempt of court” last fall, giving them until the end of the 2015 legislative session to make significant progress on a funding plan. While the funding issues are paramount to the Court, this time frame provides a unique opportunity to reflect on what our kids really need from our public education system to succeed. (more…)

Posted in: Career and College Ready Diploma, Closing the Gaps, Early Learning, Featured, Funding, Higher Education, LEV News, Uncategorized

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Live blogging: LEV Foundation, Reform + Resources = Results

League of Education Voters Foundation, A Way Forward

9 AM- 945 AM

We’re back. Today we are here in force because our proposal, A Way Forward, is the first item on the agenda. Lisa Macfarlane, George Scarola, and John Tapogna are presenting.

There is no doubt about it, A Way Forward is a bold plan. Lisa begins by asking a simple question: do we take this once in a lifetime opportunity and propose bold solutions or do we patch the system. We choose the former.

Our plan is based on five core principles that the new finance system must address:

  1. The state is responsible for providing every student reasonable opportunities to meet the state’s high school graduation requirements.
  2. The new finance system is organized to drive improvements in student achievement.
  3. The funding responsibilities of the state and local school districts are clearly delineated and separated.
  4. Local decision makers are given flexibility to determine the best use of money while being held accountable for results.
  5. Revenue distribution is simplified and scull budgets are transparent.

Based on these principles, we propose five key proposals:

Redefine Washinton’s Basic Education Commitment

This is about being bold. This about giving every student reasonable opportunity to meet the state’s achievement standards and graduation requirements. Part of this is ensuring children have an opportunity to arrive to kindergarten school ready. To that end, we propose ensuring quality early learning for low-income children. We also recognize that a high school diploma is not enough education for young people today. We propose guaranteeing graduates a 13th year at the community college level.

Strengthen Accountability

Washington has some of the most burdensome and non-productive accounting practices around. Accounting system fixes and data system improvements are foundational issues for us. It’s time for an entirely new chart of accounts and to require all school districts need to use the same accounting system. When true costs are revealed, it will be crystal clear to policy makers, stakeholders, and taxpayers, what is being funded at what level and what is not being funded.

The time has come for teachers and principals and district leaders to work together to tap the full potential of using student achievement data to improve instructional practices. We propose that school districts and the state work together to establish benchmarks for spending and achievement.

We propose funding school-based performance awards. The awards, $100 or more per full-time student, would reward all the staff members of schools that meet or exceed their achievement targets, to reward collaboration.

In cases of persistent under performance, state inspections and interventions would kick in.

Core K-12 Education Fund

LEV proposes an entirely different budget development process that is more transparent and more honest. We call for a new K-12 Expenditure Council (modeled after the Revenue Forecast Council and the Caseload Forecast Council) and we suggest that policy makers develop a new tool- a K-12 Resource Model (like what is in use in Oregon).

We also call for an entirely different and much simpler way of distributing the money. We propose eliminating the many categorical programs (some of which are inside basic education and some are outside basic education) and replace them with a single, new K-12 Core Education Fund. It would essentially function as a block grant to school districts. This revenue would not be earmarked, but districts would have to account for how they spent the money and what results they achieved and they would do so using an uniform accounting system.

This new Core K-12 Education Fund would provide additional funding per student for four groups who require additional resources to meet their education needs:

  • low income
  • special education
  • English language learners
  • career & technology education

Targeted Intervention Fund

In addition to the Core K-12 Education fund, our 4th proposal calls for a new “targeted interventions” fund.

This would be the place that state policy makers could direct school districts to use new money for gold-standard-research-proven programs. Today the list of gold standard programs includes:

  • one-on-one tutoring in K-3,
  • class size reductions in K-1, and
  • monitors for students at risk of dropping out of high school.

This fund would also invest in targeted implementation of promising practices, like Navigation 101, and would commit the state to rigorous evaluation of them.

Better Compensation System

The single best thing you can do to improve student achievement is to ensure high-quality, supported teachers.

We need to do a better job of supporting teachers as they master the skills and knowledge necessary to drive student achievement . The state needs to invest more heavily in a rigorous teacher induction program if we want the highest quality teachers to enter and stay in the profession. Too many new teachers leave the field within their first five years.

We expect a compensation survey would recommend higher compensation for hard-to-staff positions, for example in subject areas such as math, science, or special education or in schools with challenging demographics or locations that make it hard to attract talented teachers.

Because we have given the state the responsibility for funding basic education, we think the state should also have the responsibility for bargaining educator salaries.

We are also calling for renewable, three-year rolling contracts for teachers and principals. Kids are not well served when struggling teachers or principals stay in the system without the support and training they need to become effective team members in their schools. Adopting this part of the proposal would force a much needed focus on evaluation, mentoring, and professional development.

Reform + Resources = Results. If we want our kids to be competitive and qualified for the jobs of the future, then we need to infuse resources and reforms into our school finance system

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“The time for bold education reform solutions is now.”

League of Education Voters Foundation Proposes Major Reforms to Washington’s Education Finance System

Proposal to be presented to Basic Education Finance Task Force

SEATTLE – The League of Education Voters Foundation (LEVF) will propose major reforms to Washington’s public education system at the Basic Education Finance Task Force meeting Tuesday, June 10.

“The time for bold education reform solutions is now,” said Lisa Macfarlane, co-founder of the League of Education Voters Foundation. “We’ve got a once in a lifetime opportunity to redesign our public schools to work for the next 30 years.”

LEVF’s proposal, A Way Forward, is the culmination of a yearlong effort to develop a new education finance model that prepares all students for college and the workforce.

“We based A Way Forward on one simple premise: we need a public education system that will prepare all students to succeed in today’s competitive economy,” Macfarlane said.

A Way Forward proposes a series of reforms and investments to achieve results and boost student achievement.

“Today’s education finance system is overly complex and too prescriptive,” said Ken Hoover, superintendent of Monroe Public Schools and co-author of A Way Forward. “This proposal would give local school leaders more flexibility to solve problems and then hold them accountable.”

“The state does not provide enough funding for what it costs to educate students today. Communities have stepped up to subsidize public education through local levies.” Macfarlane said. “Our proposal redefines Washington’s commitment to public education.”

LEVF will present A Way Forward to the Basic Education Finance Task Force in Olympia on Tuesday, June 10 at 9 AM in House Hearing Room B, O’Brien Building.

Click here to view the full proposal.

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The League of Education Voters Foundation is a 501(c)3 charitable organization dedicated to engaging ordinary citizens, educators, policymakers and the media in the effort to provide a quality education for all students in Washington State from early learning through post-secondary education.

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