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Our View on NPR’s School Money Education Funding Series

NPR School Money series

By the LEV Policy Team

On Monday, NPR launched the first installment of a three week series on education funding. The series is highlighting disparities between states and between districts within the same state. This story shows that Washington is one of many states working towards adequately funding schools and ensuring students who need more support get more support.

This article brings attention to how the local and state share of education funding is generated and why different schools generate different levels of funding support. This point rings especially true for Washington, as it is the over-reliance on school district levies to provide basic education that was a key element of the McCleary Supreme Court ruling in 2012.

According to the article, Washington ranks behind 38 states in the level of funding support for K-12 schools at $9,383 per student. One challenge in comparing per-student spending across states is that the most recent data available is often three years old, making even new ranking lists not reflective of recent changes in education funding. The data used in this analysis is from the 2012-13 school year. For Washington, this means that it does not include any of the $3.2 billion of new investments dedicated to basic education over the last two budget cycles. Including the recent enhancements will boost per-pupil funding amounts in Washington by more than 10% over the per-student amount included in this article.

Washington still has substantial progress to make in fully funding basic education, but it has made significant strides in recent years that are not reflected in the per-student funding ranking of states in the NPR article. It is important to both acknowledge the progress Washington has made in funding education and continue to strongly advocate for equitable and ample education funding.

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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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Money Matters in the Issaquah School District

The League of Education Voters invited leaders from all around Washington state to share their school district’s story on how money matters, and how they are using it to reduce the opportunity and achievement gaps. This post is the last school district perspective in our five-part blog series, “Money Matters. But so does how it’s spent.”

Alison MeryweatherBy Alison Meryweather, LEV Key Activist

Once the 2014 budget was approved, the Issaquah district moved quickly to strategically invest the additional funding. To be clear; our district has yet to be restored to pre-2008-2009 state funding levels, but with the “additional” $3 million allocation from the state, we could begin that process.

Below are some of the priorities where funding was spent:

Instructional Performance and Accountability: $1,000,000 for full implementation, district-wide, of the Teacher Principal Evaluation Pilot (TPEP) Program. These additional funds are required to ensure the program is implemented with equity and transparency. These new evaluations are much more time-consuming and therefore the district opted to increase Dean of Students staffing at both the elementary and middle schools and add another Assistant Principal at two of our comprehensive high schools who have enrollments of 2,000 students each. This staff increase will also serve to assist students who need additional support to address their challenges.

Instructional Time: $200,000 to fund a pilot 7th period at two high schools to expand core graduation and elective options for students. Due to state funding constraints, our district only provides a 6-period day. The district will pilot an on-demand academic option, as well as provide transportation.

Student Health: While $975,000 overall was allocated, the district is contracting for Mental Health Counseling at all three of our comprehensive high schools, at a cost of $275,000. To me, this is a very smart investment. Data from our annual Healthy Youth Survey indicates numerous areas of significant concern. Our teachers are on the front line with our students and both need the guidance and support to navigate the complexities of social/emotional health.

Just imagine the opportunities for our students should the state fully adhere to the court McCleary decision to restore the previous funding levels and make additional essential investments in education!

Alison Meryweather is a passionate advocate for public education and has been volunteering for over a decade so that our students can benefit from the best education possible.

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Money Matters in the Kent School District

The League of Education Voters invited leaders from all around Washington state to share their school district’s story on how money matters, and how they are using it to reduce the opportunity and achievement gaps. This post is the third school district perspective in our five-part blog series, “Money Matters. But so does how it’s spent.”

Agda BurchardBy Agda Burchard, Legislative Representative, Kent School District Board

Thanks to the state legislature, nearly $500 per student in additional funding was available at the start of the 2013–2014 school year.

In the Kent School District, a portion of the additional resources support student learning by funding:

  • Full-Day Kindergarten. Research shows that students who attend full-day kindergarten are more likely to be independent learners, more productive, and less likely to be withdrawn or aggressive. Seven additional elementary schools in Kent received state funds for full-day kindergarten. In a full day, teachers have more time to concentrate on teaching the curriculum and students are able to focus longer on a subject. Students also have time to engage in a wider range of activities including the arts and physical education.
  • Increasing Student Success. KSD added or expanded these programs:
    • Dual-language programs at Scenic Hill and Carriage Crest elementary schools. Students will focus on learning two languages and develop high linguistic and academic proficiency.
    • Preschool classes at Meridian and Park Orchard elementary schools. To prepare students for success in school.
    • Parent Academy for Student Achievement. The Parent Academy teaches parents how to engage in their children’s education and is taught in nine different languages.
    • Career Medical Pathways program at Kentlake in partnership with Renton Technical College. Students can take low-cost college courses and work with businesses such as MultiCare Health System to receive practical instruction in the medical field. This type of experience gives students new opportunities and advantages in the modern job market.

The additional state funding was a good down-payment toward fully funding public education as required by the state supreme court’s McCleary decision. When you see your state legislators, please thank them on behalf of the students in your community. And ask them to keep working to fully fund basic education so that all our students can increase their academic achievement and graduate ready for success in college, career, and community life.

Agda Burchard and her husband Tom have lived in Kent for 20 years. Agda became active in the Kent School District when their daughter Sam entered kindergarten in 2002. In addition to serving on the Kent School District Board, Agda is a Girl Scout leader and PTA leader.

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Money Matters in Spokane Public Schools

The League of Education Voters invited leaders from all around Washington state to share their school district’s story on how money matters, and how they are using it to reduce the opportunity and achievement gaps. This post is the second school district perspective in our five-part blog series, “Money Matters. But so does how it’s spent.”

Bob DouthittBy Bob Douthitt, President, Spokane Public Schools

Spokane Public Schools received approximately $18 million in net new state and federal revenue for the 2013–2014 school year to support basic and special education. This represents 5–6 percent of our operating budget, which is slightly over $300 million.

Of the $18 million, $10 million is being used to fund Basic Education obligations that had previously been backfilled by levy money. The remaining $8 million, which represents new revenue, is being used to reduce K–1 class sizes, particularly in high-poverty schools, increase reading intervention teachers to provide support in all elementary schools, and increase certificated staff in middle schools to support both at-risk and high-achieving students. Additional investments for professional development to implement the Teacher-Principal Evaluation Project (TPEP) and new curriculum for Common Core were added to the budget. Our Mentor Teacher Program was restored. Finally, investments in college and career completion initiatives are available in this year’s budget to help support the School District’s T-2-4 goal.

The “T-2-4” goal, which is part of our new five-year strategic plan introduced this fall, says that as much as 67 percent of the jobs in Washington state are expected to require some form of post-secondary training by 2018. The “finish line” for our students should not be merely obtaining a high school diploma, but rather, completing something at the post-secondary level. It could either be technical or military (the T), a 2-year degree (the 2), or a 4-year degree (the 4).

Washington’s students certainly need the additional $3+ billion delineated in HB 2261 And ESHB 2776, and required under the McCleary decision, if they are going to substantially improve their academic achievement and realistically expect to obtain the outcomes we want as a state, and need as a society.

Bob Douthitt was elected to the School Board for Spokane Public Schools in 2007, and has served as president since 2011. A former tax attorney and retail business owner, he has been active in civic affairs throughout his career.

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Money Matters in the Anacortes School District

The League of Education Voters invited leaders from all around Washington state to share their school district’s story on how money matters, and how they are using it to reduce the opportunity and achievement gaps. This post is the first school district perspective in our five-part blog series, “Money Matters. But so does how it’s spent.”

Jeannette PapadakisBy Jeannette Papadakis, President, Anacortes School Board

The increased funding from the 2014 legislative session, as the first installment for fully funding K–12 education, is directly benefiting Anacortes students. The additional resources received are being used to positively impact the Anacortes School District’s instructional goals.

Thanks to the work of the legislature, we have been able to continue to fund full-day kindergarten for every student in our district. We believe that starting “school ready” is a requirement for future academic success. Through initiatives such as our aggressive early learning efforts and the ability to continue full-day kindergarten, our student assessment data shows substantial and consistent gains in this area.

Another area we have addressed with additional funding is first and second grade literacy. By the completion of these grades, 30 percent of our students are not on target to meet the reading standards. It is critical to their future academic success that students are able to read by third grade. After analyzing data, our current practices and curriculum, and studying the latest research, we hired two primary literacy instructional coaches to address this problem. Current research shows that students have the best gains with a certified, high-quality teacher (versus our former pull-out model). These instructional coaches model, guide, collaborate, and provide feedback, with the goal of directly impacting student reading achievement.

We appreciate our legislature taking the necessary initial steps to fully fund public education. Through the use of these additional resources the Anacortes School District is addressing specific student needs and outcomes.

Jeannette Papadakis is the President of the Anacortes School Board. She has served on the board since 2007.

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Olympia’s education efforts: Mid-course correction needed

This post was written by League of Education Voters CEO Chris Korsmo and originally posted on Crosscut on December 3, 2013.

Chris Korsmo, CEO, League of Education VotersThe National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2013 test results were heralded recently by many in our state for the increases in fourth and eighth grade math and reading scores.

The results are promising and the progress deserves to be recognized.

Yet when the results were announced, there was little to no mention of the widening achievement gaps among some groups of Washington students.

Specifically, during the past 10 years, the gaps between black/white, Latino/white, and low-income/higher income students widened at all grades and subjects tested.

Clearly, what we are doing for these students is not working. (more…)

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Judge rules: I-1053 is unconstitutional

Challenging I-1053, League of Education Voters vs. Washington State

A King County Superior Court judge ruled today that Initiative 1053 is unconstitutional.

“This lawsuit is another important piece in making sure our kids have all the resources they need to get an excellent education,” Chris Korsmo, Chief Executive Officer, said. “LEV was founded on the principle that our kids deserve fully funded schools.”

I-1053 requires a supermajority of the Legislature to raise taxes or close tax loopholes.

LEV is the lead plaintiff in the suit, along with the Washington Education Association, legislators, parents and taxpayers.

“This decision is a victory for the children of Washington state,” said Mary Lindquist, WEA president. “If it is upheld, this ruling will pave the way for the Legislature to fully fund K-12 public schools as mandated by the Supreme Court’s McCleary decision and the state Constitution. We hope it will be settled soon. Our kids can’t wait any longer.”

The Court held that the Washington Constitution establishes the exclusive rules for determining whether passage of a law requires a simple majority or super majority vote.  Those rules cannot be altered by the legislature passing a law or by the people enacting an initiative.  The Court noted that the Washington Constitution established super majority requirements for a number of types of laws, but not for tax increases.

Judge Bruce E. Heller wrote: “Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment is GRANTED. Plaintiffs present a justiciable controversy and have standing to bring this action. RCW 43.135.034(1)’s supermajority vote requirement violates the simple majority provision of Article II, 22 of the Washington Constitution, rendering that provision of the statute unconstitutional. Further RCW.43.135.034(2)(a)’s mandatory referendum requirement violates Article II, 1 and Article II, 1(b) of the Washington Constitution, rendering that provision of the statute unconstitutional.”

“This is a victory for the Constitution” said Paul Lawrence of the Pacifica Law Group, lead counsel for the plaintiffs.  Lawrence explained:  “The Constitution establishes the fundamental rules for how our governmental works.  The framers considered what types of laws require a super majority vote for passage.  Taxes were not identified as requiring a super majority vote.  Fundamental changes in how the government operates have to be accomplished by constitutional amendment, not by passage of a law or initiative.”

Legislators who had joined as plaintiffs expressed similar hope that the case will allow the State to meet its constitutional obligation to fund public education.   Jamie Pedersen, State Representative for the 43rd LD, said:  “I am thrilled that the court reached the merits of this question and recognized that Tim Eyman’s initiatives requiring supermajority votes to raise revenue are unconstitutional and are hampering our ability to fund public schools.  I feel hopeful that the Supreme Court – fresh off of its decision that the legislature is failing to fund education adequately – will give us back the tools to do so.“

Chris Reykdal State Representative for the 22nd LD echoed that that sentiment:  “This is an historic decision for our state.  Our treasured initiative process can clearly amend state law or advocate new laws, but it cannot amend the constitution.  We all have to play by the same rules.  We look forward to the State Supreme Court upholding this decision on appeal by the State.  We have a court mandated obligation to fund basic education, and this decision restores the Legislature’s ability to do that with majority rule.  In the end, our citizens, democracy, and our children are the biggest winners.”

Plaintiff State Senator David Frockt noted:  “There are critical policy implications to this ruling.  The elected representatives of the people should have all policy options available to them to change the downward spiral that we have been on in both K-12 and higher education investments in recent years.  In my opinion, there has been an undeniable “chilling” effect on the development of options to address these issues.  The full range of options are not seriously considered, much less debated, when it is perceived to be a futile effort in light of a minority’s ability to overrule the majority on the House or Senate floor.  I have been appointed to serve on the education funding committee that has been established in response to the McCleary decision.  If this ruling is upheld, as I hope it will be, I believe we will have a better shot at fulfilling our paramount duty to fully fund our educational system in the coming years.”  Frockt further observed that the decision does not undermine the ability of the people to reign in government:  “The people retain numerous checks on legislative power, through legislative elections every two and four years, as well as the power of referendum to overturn any policy changes the legislature may make.  Nothing about this constitutional ruling changes those sovereign rights that the voters hold and will continue to hold.”

Lawrence expects the decision to be appealed directly to the Washington Supreme Court.   He plans to ask for expedited review so that a decision can be rendered before the start of the 2013 legislative session.

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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.

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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?

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