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Activist of the Month: Heidi Bennett

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 - League of Education Voters Activist of the Month Feb 2017

February Activist of the Month Heidi Bennett

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.”

Posted in: Activist of the Month, Advocacy and Activism, Funding, Higher Education

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Korsmo’s Weekly Roundup: McCleary Edition

Over the past two biennia, the state of Washington has increased funding for K–12 education by nearly 3 billion dollars. In addition, local maintenance and operations levies provide an additional $2 billion each year. The state and local school districts have told the public that these additional dollars will be invested in increases in teacher pay; K–3 class-size reductions; full-day kindergarten; transportation; and material, supplies, and operating costs (MSOC).

With this level of investment, parents should expect significant new services.

They should expect their K–3 classes to be demonstrably smaller.

They should not be asked to provide basic supplies.

Schools should not have to shut down computer labs or libraries for testing.

And there should not be teacher strikes this fall.

Unfortunately, these reasonable expectations will not be met.

The reason for this is at the heart of the recent McCleary ruling, which is largely focused on compensation. While the ruling has issues and some legislators are not happy about it, the reality we are facing is this: well over 11 billion dollars is being invested in our public schools each year with far too little to show for it.

The current “system” for paying our K–12 employees is nonsensical, inequitable, and is not remotely reflective of the needs of our students. It creates inexcusable inequities between districts, limits educational opportunity for thousands of students, and creates annual labor strife.

Without addressing our K–12 compensation structure, investments will continue to follow adults rather than students.

Both political parties took credit for the investments in education, and they will share the blame if all the new money gets vaporized before benefiting any students. The fault is collective. It cuts across party lines and between the state and local districts.

As the new school year begins, the League of Education Voters will be vigilant in following the money that has been invested. We will help communities understand the truth behind local strikes. We hope our work will help more people understand the necessity of fixing the broken way we pay our most important state employees.

And lastly, we hope our Legislature applies the lessons learned from the last two budget cycles and works in a creative, bipartisan way to solve this problem. They have shown that they can do things of this scale that are great for the state of Washington. We hope they remember their responsibility, their duty, and their ability, to do the job.

Thanks for all you do on behalf of Washington’s students.

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps, Funding, Weekly Roundup

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Statement on the 2015-2017 Budget

After one long legislative session (followed by three special sessions), Governor Inslee signed Washington’s 2015–2017 state budget into law late in the evening on June 30, averting a government shutdown by less than an hour. An unprecedented series of events ultimately delayed sine die until today, but with the true end of our historically long 2015 legislative session at hand, we take a moment to reflect.

What we see in this budget is a more comprehensive investment in education than at any other time in the state’s history. Through their strong investments in public education across the spectrum, early learning through postsecondary, the Legislature has given all Washington’s students more hope for their future.

The 2015 Legislative SessionThe League of Education Voters has long argued that a child’s education should be a continuum with seamless transitions from early learning through higher education. We have worked with partners around the state in pursuit of that vision, including with the Cradle through College Coalition. It is gratifying to see the Legislature following through with strategies and investments that support students at all ages. (more…)

Posted in: Blog, Closing the Gaps, Early Learning, Funding, Higher Education, Legislative session, LEV News, Press Releases & Statements

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Local bond and levy elections raise $1.9B for schools

This February, in nearly 60 local bond and levy elections across the state, Washington voters sent a strong message of support to their local schools by approving 55 school levies, raising more than $817 million dollars for schools.

Sixteen of the 27 bonds passed, raising $1.11 billion for districts across the state. Unlike levies, the passing threshold for bonds is 60 percent. If a simple majority were the threshold, nine other bonds would have passed, raising an additional $694 million for school districts. A bill was introduced this session by Rep. Mia Gregorson to change the passing threshold for bonds to 50 percent, but it did not make it out of the House Education committee.
Of the 55 levies that passed, 44 were for maintenance and operations and raised $804 million total for districts across the state. Eleven of the 55 passed levies are capital levies, which raised more than $12 million for schools.

Eight of the levies passed thanks to simple majority, a 2007 voter-approved constitutional amendment supported by the League of Education Voters. Between 2008 and 2015, nearly $5 billion was raised for schools through local levies.
(more…)

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Results certified in levies and bonds elections

As the League of Education Voters preliminarily reported in mid-February, Washington voters overwhelmingly supported their local school levies. The special election results were certified on February 25.

Of 197 levies, all but three passed, and voters approved $5.5 billion dollars in funding for schools (nearly $4.9 billion for maintenance and operations, $646 million for capital, and $1.7 million for transportation). Of that $5.5 billion approved, $1.49 billion passed thanks to simple majority, a 2007 voter-approved constitutional amendment supported by the League of Education Voters.

Of the 24 bonds that Washington voters were asked to approve, 11 passed, providing an additional $1.5 billion in public education funds. Unlike levies, bonds require a 60 percent voter approval rate.

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Washington voters step up for schools and support $5 billion in local levies

Last week, in nearly 200 local elections across the state, Washington voters overwhelming supported their local school levies, approving $5.4 billion dollars in funding for schools.

While a few elections are still too close to call and the results will not be certified until February 25, of the 194 levies that passed, 150 were for maintenance and operations and raised nearly $4.9 billion total for districts across the state. Forty-three capital levies and one transportation levy also passed.

Fifty-four of the levies passed thanks to simple majority, a 2007 voter-approved constitutional amendment supported by the League of Education Voters. Between 2008 and 2013, more than $4.7 billion was raised for schools through local levies.

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. Last year, the legislature added nearly $1 billion to support K–12 basic education funding and gap closing strategies and programs.

Posted in: Blog, Elections, Funding, LEV News

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Voters support schools; states should do more

This opinion piece was written by LEV Board member Thelma Jackson and originally appeared on February 27, 2013 in The Olympian.

As voters continue to support their local schools, the state must step up and share responsibility.

Fifty-three local school boards went to voters asking for more than $1.7 billion in levies for their schools in this February’s special election. Communities responded with overwhelming support to these requests, passing all but one levy, and most by a large margin. In a time of rhetoric about how voters are unwilling to support education through revenue, this election stands in stark contrast.

In fact, voters approved more than 98 percent of local levies across the state, committing $1.7 billion in taxes to their schools. When voters pass these levies, they know their money is going directly to helping children, providing necessary services to help students get an excellent education.

In many school districts, local levies make up 25 percent or more of the total operating costs of a district. In my North Thurston district, it’s 21 percent. 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.

Read more here.

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Prioritizing school funding

Last Friday, the Washington legislature passed its first big milestone for the 2013 session – the deadline for policy bills to pass out of committee.

It was a mad dash to the finish line which included bills to transform school discipline, support for all students to have access to rigorous college-ready courses, STEM education, reform of early learning programs, and ensuring all third-graders can read. Our legislature is doing some very good work.

While Olympia was focused on policy, local voters focused on funding schools.

During February’s levy elections, voters across the state supported $1.7 billion dollars in funding for schools. Last year, local voters approved $2.6 billion in local levy funds. As the legislature struggles to come up with $1.5 billion this biennium, local voters have approved $4.3 billion in local levy funding during the past two years. The levies were approved with an average 63 percent of the vote in 204 school districts across the majority of legislative districts.

Voters passed these levies because they know the money is going directly to helping kids. Voters stepped up for their local schools.

It’s time we step up for all schools and all students in our state.

Over a year ago, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in McCleary v. Washington that the state was not meeting its constitutional duty to fully fund basic education. The court ordered the legislature to overhaul how education is funded in the state by 2018.

It’s time to make a down payment on our students’ futures.

There are legislative leaders who are committed to fulfilling the promise of our state’s paramount duty and they need our support. Please join me in thanking our legislative leaders who are working hard on behalf of Washington’s kids to ensure ample, equitable, and stable education funding.

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Special election bonds and levies on the ballot

Vote buttonIn a special election this April, voters across Washington state have the opportunity to support their local schools by voting in favor of bonds and levies. By supporting your local bond or levy, you help students have access to things like excellent school facilities, fully-staffed schools, extracurricular programs and more.

Use the chart below to see if your school district is asking for a bond or levy. Remember to vote! Ballots are due by Tuesday, April 17, 2012.

School District Bond/Levy Name Counties Bond/Levy Amount 2013 2014 2015 2016
Bickleton Special Maintenance and Operations Levy Klickitat; Yakima $150K $150K $150K
Cascade Capital Levy for Educational Technology Improvements Chelan $836K $836K
Centerville Excess Levy For Maintenance and Operation Levy Klickitat $298K $298K
College Place Capital Improvements and School Construction General Obligation Bonds Walla Walla $38.53M
Deer Park Maintenance and Operations Replacement Levy Pend Oreille; Spokane; Stevens $1.96M $2M $2.04M
Eatonville Educational Programs and Operations Levy Lewis $4.54M $4.54M
Issaquah General Obligation Bonds King $219.12M
Lakewood—Proposition 1 Replacement School Program and Operations Levy Snohomish $5.95M $6.27M $6.56M $6.89M
Lakewood—Proposition 2 Capital Projects and Technology Levy Snohomish $3.81M $3.51M
Loon Lake Replace Maintenance and Operation Levy Stevens $226K $226K $226K $226K
Mercer Island General Obligation Bonds King $196.28M
Methow Valley—Proposition 1 Replacement of expiring maintenance and operation levy Okanogan $1.6M $1.65M $1.7M $1.75M
Methow Valley—Proposition 2 Replacement of expiring capital levy for educational technology improvements Okanogan $275K $275K $275K $275K
Methow Valley—Proposition 3 Bonds for health; safety; and energy efficiency improvements Okanogan $1.85M
Reardon-Edwall Bonds to Renovate; Improve; and Construct School Facilities Lincoln; Spokane $18.4M
Renton Building for a Lifetime of Learning School Building Improvement Bonds King $97M
Riverside Levy Replacement Pend Oreille; Spokane $2.86M $2.88M $2.91M
Selkirk Two-year Maintenance and Operation Replacement Levy Pend Oreille $499.5K $499.5K
Stanwood-Camano Education Maintenance and Operation Levy Island; Snohomish $11.1M $11.3M $11.19M $11.19M
West Valley Two Year Maintenance & Operation Replacement Levy Yakima $6.9M $6.9M
Woodland General Obligation Bond Clark; Cowlitz $52.84M

Source: http://www.sos.wa.gov/elections/auditors.aspx

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Balancing Tacoma schools' budget

Following the success of our State Budget Calculator, we decided to bring the impact of proposed budget cuts even closer to home. We partnered with the school district in Tacoma to bring you the Tacoma Public Schools Budget Calculator.

Tacoma Public Schools are facing an estimated $12 million shortfall over the next four to five years, depending on state funding. District leaders and the Tacoma Board of Directors are working to figure out how to bridge that gap right now. You can join them by using the calculator to consider the options available. The services and programs you decide to cut or keep will impact the entire Tacoma community.

In order to balance the budget, you can choose to cut positions like special education teachers or guidance counselors, eliminate professional development for teachers and principals, or even close entire schools. You can also choose to raise revenue by increasing tuition fees where allowed, selling advertising and naming rights at school athletics facilities, or asking to voters to approve a new $5 million levy.

Do your best to solve the budget deficit, then share how you did it.

Are you up to the challenge?

Try the Tacoma Public Schools Budget Calculator today.

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