LEV teams up with Seattle Center to showcase the classroom of the future

Budding Washington artists and visionaries have the opportunity to showcase their talents at an exhibit to celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair.

Seattle Center and the League of Education Voters are asking Washington’s K-12 students to think about what the classroom of the future will look like. In 50 years, what technology will be used? What are students learning? What will the classroom/learning environment be like?

Selected artists will be showcased at an exhibition during the month of August at the Seattle Center. Students interested in participating are encouraged to submit a letter of intent by April 30th. The deadline to turn in the projects is June 1. Submissions can be in a variety of forms from essays to poetry to videos to slideshows to 3-D models. Students can submit their work individually or as part of a team.

Professionals in the fields of education, technology, architecture, art and design will curate the submissions to present common themes apparent in the participants’ visions of future learning environments. While there will not be prizes, all participants will receive official Next Fifty certificates. Selected individual youth and/or groups may be invited to present their ideas as part of Seattle Center’s Next Fifty Learning events .

For more information regarding the letter of intent and exhibition rules, please visit our website at http://www.educationvoters.org/seattlecenter/.

Governor signs bill establishing new Student Achievement Council

Governor Gregoire signed HB 2483 today which will create a new cabinet level agency, the Student Achievement Council.

Passed by a bi-partisan effort, responsibilities for the Council will include developing policy and strategies to raise the percentage of Washingtonians with post-secondary education as well as administering state financial aid programs.

According to the Higher Education Coordinating Board’s blog, the new law (which becomes effective July 1st will have several goals:

a) To propose to the governor and the Legislature goals for increasing educational attainment in Washington, recommend the resources necessary to achieve the goals, and monitor progress toward meeting the goals;

b) To propose to the governor, the Legislature, and the state’s educational institutions, improvements and innovations needed to continually adapt the state’s educational institutions to evolving educational attainment needs; and

c) To advocate for higher education through various means, with the goal of educating the general public on the economic, social and civic benefits of post- secondary education, and the consequent need for increased financial support and civic commitment in the state.

More information about the new law can be found here.

Map compares cost of living across the U.S.

As a part of their Out of Reach 2012 campaign, the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) has compiled wage and rent data from all over the country and created a map to compare the hourly wage needed to afford a two bedroom home at 30 percent of income. This is referred to as the housing wage.

(Click map to enlarge)

According to NLIHC, the map”demonstrates that a mismatch exists between the cost of living, the availability of rental assistance and the wages people earn day to day across the country. The Housing Wage consistently exceeds the actual wages earned by renters, in both urban and rural communities nationwide.”

NLIHC also created a map to see how many hours a person earning minimum wage would need to work in order to afford a two bedroom house at fair market rent.

(Click map to enlarge)

In Washington, a person earning minimum wage would need to work 80 hours a week in order to afford a two bedroom home paying 30 percent of their income. The highest disparity was found in Hawaii with minimum wage earners needing to work 175 hours and Washington D.C. came in second with 140 hours.

The full report can be read here.






Declare I-1053 unconstitutional, LEV argues before court

Challenging I-1053, League of Education Voters vs. Washington StateToday the King County Superior Court heard arguments on a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Tim Eyman’s Initiative 1053. The initiative imposes a supermajority vote in the state Legislature to raise revenues or close tax loopholes. The League of Education Voters, along with the Washington Education Association, parents, taxpayers and lawmakers are asking the court to rule that the supermajority requirement is unconstitutional.

Judge Bruce Heller heard arguments on the standing of the lawsuit, then heard arguments on the merits of the case from both sides. LEV argued for summary judgment because the Court’s voice is necessary in determining the constitutionality of the Initiative. Judge Heller did not offer a ruling at the hearing, instead taking the arguments under advisement. A ruling may be announced within the next few weeks.

LEV has a long history of supporting measures that help us fully fund education, including our efforts to pass the Simple Majority legislation for levies that allowed $1.2 billion to be raised for schools just this year. This lawsuit is another important piece in making sure our kids have all the resources they need to get an excellent education. It’s also key to ensuring that legislators have all of their constitutionally protected powers at their disposal for making budget decisions.

Even to close the outdated tax loopholes, I-1053 requires a two-thirds vote. But the constitution sets the rules for the Legislature, and it requires a simple majority to raise taxes or close loopholes. As long as I-1053 goes unchallenged, a minority of legislators can block the will of the majority.

Part of the initiative requires a two-thirds vote of both chambers of the Legislature to raise revenue or modify tax preferences. LEV believes that the state constitution is clear that such measures require only a majority vote of the Legislature. The state’s constitution cannot be amended by statute, regardless of how that statute came into existence.

The State has said that it will not oppose having the appeal heard by the Washington Supreme Court. Further, the governor has requested to be separately represented by a special assistant attorney general, indicating that she agrees with the plaintiffs that the decision on I-1053 should be made in the courts.

South Shore counselor Rachel Powers Carrasco wins Swain Excellence in Education Award

classroom with students raising handsRachel Powers Carrasco, a counselor at the South Shore School in South Seattle, has been awarded The Philip B. Swain Excellence in Education Award. Presented by the Alliance for Education and funded by family and friends through an endowment, the award was established to honor Phillip Swain, who was a passionate advocate for public education throughout his life.

In her nomination, Rachel’s administrators wrote “Rachel Carrasco is a remarkable member of our South Shore family – her exceptional leadership, her long standing relationships with students, families and staff members, and her relentless advocacy for student success reminds her Administrators of the holistic, comprehensive and thoughtful wrap-around services that each child deserves from our schools.”

The yearly award is given to teachers and counselors in Seattle Public Schools who are nominated by colleagues, principals and/or administrators in Seattle Public Schools. All winners have taught for at least three years at a school where, for at least two of the past three years, there is a rate of free and reduced-lunch eligibility of 40 percent or higher. Most importantly, the winners inspire a love of learning in students while helping them reach their highest academic potential, and play a leadership role with their peers in fostering a professional learning community, in which teachers are encouraged to learn from one another through coaching, study groups, peer critique and collaborative problem-solving.

The award also includes a stipend of $1,000 to be used for continuing professional development, for travel associated with such development, for classroom projects or for personal purposes. Rachel, along with the other five award recipients, has also been invited to attend the Alliance for Education Community Breakfast.

Washington voters pass $2.6 billion in taxes for education

You did not see that headline last week, but you should have.

You may have read reports about levies in a particular district or county, but there was precious little attention paid to what happened all across the state. What happened was that voters overwhelmingly supported their local schools and voted for $2.6 billion in taxes to support education.

Let’s say it again: Voters overwhelmingly supported their local schools and voted for $2.6 billion in taxes to support education.

Out of 295 school districts, 157 went to their local communities seeking support to the tune of over $2.7 billion dollars in property taxes. Out of the 157 school districts that put levies on the ballot, 152 of them passed. In a time where we hear that voters will not support revenue, the local election results stand in stark contrast to that narrative.

In most cases, local dollars make up around 25% of the total operating costs of a school district. We are a far cry from local levies being about the “extras” they were originally designed to provide. As the economic crises drags on, the importance of local levies has increased. Local communities have responded to that crisis with overwhelming support for their schools.

Simple Majority, the gift that keeps on giving
It seems odd, but Washington state has a fondness for requiring super majorities when it comes to revenue. It used to be that local schools had to receive more than 60% of the vote to secure a local operating levy. Thanks to Simple Majority (also known as I-4204, passed in 2007) we returned to the most basic of democratic principles, majority rules. That means that 51 levies representing $1.2 billion have passed because of Simple Majority. That is $1.2 billion to support the students in those districts that they otherwise would not have received.

Our support for majority rule extends to the state Legislature, where the law currently requires two-thirds majority to raise revenue. The I-1053 lawsuit, which we filed along with the Washington Education Association and other plaintiffs in October, will have its first hearing in March. We hope that the combination of the McCleary ruling and the eventual ruling on I-1053 will clear the way to fund our schools at the level they need, and local voters seem prepared to support.

Totem Middle School has the solution for math success

Earlier this week, LEV staff members visited Totem Middle School, and it’s safe to say we were blown away. With half of the students receiving free or reduced lunch, Totem has been able to do something remarkable – turn around their math scores dramatically in just three years.

Just take a look at these statistics:

– 2009-2010: 12% of their students took Algebra I in 8th grade

– 2010-2011: 45% of their students took Algebra I in 8th grade

– 2011-2012: 83% of their students are taking Algebra I in 8th grade.

Algebra I by 8th grade is an educational gatekeeper that directly (and positively) correlates with college and career preparedness, which makes the above data all the better. Not only are more students taking algebra, they are also passing at higher rates. The increase in the number of Totem 8th graders taking Algebra 1 has also led to a a higher pass rate in math when they went on to high school. When the 12% of 8th graders taking algebra went on to 9th grade, the math pass rate was 40%. The following year, when the 45% of 8th graders taking algebra went on to 9th grade, the pass rate went up to 90%. That’s an incredible 50% increase!

With the funding they were awarded through a federal School Improvement Grant (SIG), Totem was able to enact some key changes:

– Extended school day by half an hour.

– Extra support for students through an increase in staff and academic intervention during and after school.

– Extra support and flexibility for teachers through professional development

– Using data in all decisions.

We were able to speak to the Superintendent, Principal, teachers and students and the one thing (among many) that stuck with us was this: Both the teachers AND the principal thought was the most important thing done was changing the belief system of the teachers. The kids COULD do it…and they have.

When it comes to the big changes at Totem, these were three biggest lessons learned:

1) If something is not working, change it now.

2) Weekly progress monitoring is an important aspect of encouraging students to try harder

3) All students can learn at high levels.

We love this message, and yes, we are fans. Keep up the great work Totem Middle School. We look forward to the amazing things in your future!


edCored: Challenging times ahead

State Rep. Glenn Anderson (R-35th) wrote this for his constituents and allowed us to republish as a blog post for our edCored series on education funding. If you want to be notified when new content is published in this month-long series, please subscribe to the LEV Blog’s RSS feed or once-a-day email digest.

At the national level:

After a bruising federal national debt-ceiling debate, a spending cut of less than 1 percent was enacted before Congress voted to lift the nation’s borrowing authority by another $2 trillion. Consequently, the United States credit rating was downgraded for the first time in our history. This Labor Day, the national creation of jobs was zero as millions of individuals struggle to make ends meet and invest in their future. Today, Europe is in the middle of a banking system meltdown very similar to the 2008 U.S. banking system meltdown, except instead of the sub-prime mortgage debt, the issue is the sovereign debt of European countries (i.e. Greece, Spain, Italy, etc.). The U.S. Federal Reserve Bank recently began financial bailout loans to European banks (similar to the support they provided to American banks in 2008-09). This is a last ditch effort to prevent the collapse of the European economy upon which the U.S. economy is very dependent.

Our president, before a joint session of Congress, recently proposed a $447 billion temporary “jobs creation stimulus” plan to, again, attempt to kick-start the U.S. economy. This proposal follows the previous $880 billion stimulus plan enacted in 2009, which, by almost all expert assessments, failed to have any impact on improving the nation’s economy. The new “stimulus-light” proposal contains a number of marginal initiatives that would require borrowing even more money from overseas (primarily China). It has been presented that these proposed spending increases will be “paid for” by closing various federal tax loopholes and “taxing the rich” (individuals with an income of $200,000 and above). This is just an outright falsehood. If you eliminated every federal tax loophole and confiscated 100 percent of the profits of every business and the income of “the rich,” it would pay down less than 10 percent of our now $16 trillion national debt.

The only solution to this extraordinary mess is to dramatically cut federal spending and very aggressively create family-wage private-sector jobs. Government can’t create a single permanent private-sector job, but it can create a fair and stable business climate for employers to invest and create those jobs.

At the state level:

Our state’s situation is equally severe. Recently, the state economist forecasted another $1.4 billion reduction in anticipated state tax revenues. This comes just four short months after the 2011-13 state budget passed by the Legislature took effect. Additionally, it was forecasted the state’s economy would not improve for at least the next 18 months and further revenue declines can be expected. Most expert opinion suggests that it will take 6-10 years for the state’s economy to recover to pre-Great Recession levels. The governor has called for a special session to being Nov. 28 to deal with this new budget shortfall, which is not soon enough in my opinion.

This situation comes on top of an overall, already-weak state economy over the past decade. Over the last 10 years:

1) net private sector job creation (actual jobs created less actual jobs destroyed) in our state has been almost ZERO, even with an increase of almost 1 million in new population. The current unemployed/underemployed rate is roughly 17 percent (some estimates place that number closer to 22 percent);
2) the rate of personal income growth (fatter paychecks) is down 20 percent; and,
3) the most basic cost-of-living indicator, food inflation is up almost 40 percent (the number of federal food stamp program participants has tripled). In short, more people in Washington are getting poorer, faster.

What this means is the economically healthier urban counties (King County, in particular) are less and less able to generate the level of tax revenues to redistribute and support the other counties dependent on state funding. Over this last decade as state citizens’ overall have gotten poorer on average, state government spending has increased about 22 percent overall from about $24.5 (2001) billion to $30 billion (2011). This is clearly not a roadmap for future prosperity.

The solution at the state level is no different in principle from the federal level: we must very aggressively encourage the creation of family-wage, private-sector jobs. Without this initiative, our ability to invest in the education of our children, replace worn out infrastructure, transition to a sustainable healthcare system, provide public lands for recreational use and environmental protection and maintain a strong public safety system will continue to erode even more rapidly.

Where do we go from here?

One of my favorite quotes is, “the test of a great people is their ability to renew themselves in the face of adversity.” All of us must understand we are in the beginning of this process. Please do listen to the news closely no matter how depressing it may be or how busy you are. Seek out the facts and ignore the ranting of the ideological extremes. Encourage your community groups to move beyond the “what’s in it for me first” mentality. Challenge your friends and family to become part of the solution.

We will succeed only if we all agree we want to succeed and not just look for ways to blame somebody else for the recent unraveling of the economy. We must act now to ensure our legacy to our children is one to be proud of, not ashamed of, in our time of adversity.

edCored: The arts – past and present

Pat Deming, a music teacher in the Kent School District, wrote this blog post for our edCored series on education funding. If you want to be notified when new content is published in this month-long series, please subscribe to the LEV Blog’s RSS feed or once-a-day email digest.

Forty years ago this September, as a first-year teacher in Kent, I started to teach a choral program at Meeker Junior High. At that time education was more fully funded and arts programs were required by the state. Meeker was able to run a seven-period day that allowed students to meet their requirements as well as enjoy their self-selected electives. Students overfilled the freshly-built choir room for five periods a day. Two exuberant classes of seventh grade girls that numbered 65 and 53 combined to make beautiful two- and three-part harmony. One terrific group of 42 seventh grade boys knocked the socks off audiences with their spirited rendition of pieces from Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. A class of 72 eighth and ninth graders was deemed too large for a beginning teacher so the class was split into two periods that came together for performances. Band classes were full, orchestra classes were full, visual arts classes were full. It was even possible for students to take both band and choir if they chose. Many of those students have become today’s performers, artists and arts teachers. Kent really prepared them for their future.

(Darren Motamedy was one of those band students at Meeker. He was Kent’s Teacher of the Year in 2009 and is a performing artist and composer.)

So why has the choral program at Meeker been driven so low that it has been closed down for the 2011-2012?

In 1983 when the education reforms seminal document Nation at Risk was published, the writers warned of this happening.
“Over-emphasis on technical and occupational skills will leave little time for studying the arts and humanities that so enrich daily life, help maintain civility, and develop a sense of community. Knowledge of the humanities, they maintain, must be harnessed to science and technology if the latter are to remain creative and humane…”

The cancellation of the Meeker Middle School choir program is yet another unintended consequence of school districts trying to comply with No Child Left Behind law. Administrators spend energy and slim resources working to assess students and raise test scores in only two subjects from the education palette . Year after year, parents see reports on tests that state whether students have made grade level and whether a school has made AYP (adequate yearly progress). Students are removed from elective classes in middle school in order to do double time in math, reading or writing. Is it a wonder that social studies, the arts and science are subjects being left behind? Is it a wonder that students, parents and teachers do not value anything beyond math and reading? When was the last time you saw an award or newspaper time given to students for a great performance in singing or playing an instrument? Is it no longer the goal of the schools to prepare students for their future in anything other than math and reading?

Kent’s meager offerings in music and the arts have been rapidly dying out due to lack of a vision and administrative support. Constant cuts in program offerings and not allowing students to take the courses they choose, is about to leave students without an arts program of any kind. This is counter to a large body of research that reminds us that all students do better when they are part of a comprehensive arts program that is supported and nourished. As the sting is taken out of the current federal laws, Kent can be a leader in developing a new vision for students or we must ask the question– What happens when we have no more artists, poets, musicians, social scientists or historians to study? What happens when we have many skilled mathematicians who cannot work creatively or work in community? What happens when we have students writing but cannot express themselves fully?

edCored: Counseling services feel the strain

Judy Rohm, a counselor in the Kent School District, wrote this blog post for our edCored series on education funding. If you want to be notified when new content is published in this month-long series, please subscribe to the LEV Blog’s RSS feed or once-a-day email digest.

I am in my 26th year as a counselor in a Kent School district middle school. For the past three years, and again this year, we are looking at potential cuts to the middle school counseling programs due to budget restraints. The district has cut counseling services in 15 of the 28 elementary schools in the past three years to cut costs.

Many of the families in Kent are experiencing serious financial challenges. In my middle school, 61% of our students are living in families who are below the national poverty level. With the limited family resources, high transiency and added stress due to financial strains, I have seen a tremendous increase in social/emotional/academic and material needs in the past 4-5 years.

The counseling department in our school facilitates a school-wide three-week study skills unit, a three-week career development unit and a 26-week social/emotional/healthy choice program. We also facilitate a WEB program to welcome and mentor 7th graders throughout their 7th grade year. Along with small groups for grief, anger, divorce, self-esteem and drug-related issues, individual counseling and mediations, we are extremely committed to providing as many preventative, as well as responsive, services as possible. With pending budget cuts, these services will be in jeopardy. The needs are great and the services are critical and often life-saving. We appreciate support from the community to maintain and restore critical counseling services to our schools, especially our elementary schools in Kent.