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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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LEV Board votes to oppose I-1366: Another mean-spirited distraction from Tim Eyman

The League of Education Voters (LEV) Board voted to oppose Initiative 1366 on June 23, 2015. I-1366 is sponsored by Tim Eyman and Jack and Mike Fagan and qualified for the ballot today.

The initiative would cut Washington state’s sales tax by one percent, resulting in the loss of approximately one billion dollars per year for the state—unless the Washington State Legislature approves a constitutional amendment requiring a two-thirds vote to raise revenue by April 2016. With about sixty-six cents of every sales tax dollar going toward public education, the passage of I-1366 would be disastrous for Washington’s students.

Eyman’s tactics in this initiative are nothing new; he has attempted time and time again to pass initiatives (I-960, I-1053, I-1185) requiring a two-thirds vote to raise or recover revenue. Thanks to the League of Education Voters v. State of Washington court case, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled I-1053 unconstitutional in 2013. Given the outcome of that case, Eyman is now resorting to extortion in an effort to force the Legislature to pass a two-thirds constitutional amendment.

Cutting the sales tax by more than $2 billion per biennium would necessitate devastating cuts to our schools, in violation of the Supreme Court’s McCleary orders and in violation of Article IX of the Washington State Constitution, which instructs the state to make “ample provision” for the education of Washington students.

Our Legislature recently passed one of the best budgets for education in our state’s history. Now is not the time to backtrack on the state’s progress toward an ample, equitable, and stable education system.

Learn more about our partners in opposition of I-1366 at the No on Tim Eyman’s I-1366 website.

Posted in: Blog, Elections, Funding, 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.
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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.

Posted in: Blog, Elections, Funding

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