Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe’s open letter to the education community

We’ve posted Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe’s open letter to the education community in full below.

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April 18, 2009

This has been one of the most difficult and bittersweet weeks in my time in our Legislature. We passed House Bill 2261, to redefine Basic Education. I envisioned the day we would all do this together, but to my deep disappointment that did not happen.

Still, it is time to move forward.

The bill the Senate passed last week shines a bright light on how the state funds our schools with an outdated definition of basic education and gives us the tools to know how we must change our funding to better reflect the growing expectations and challenges our schools face. What will be our class size? Does each school have enough teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors and speech therapists to help students excel? And how many administrators does each school need? These are the questions that this legislation will help us answer.

The bill isn’t perfect, but it is our road map to the world-class educational system envisioned by Washington Learns that every one of us deeply wants. We may not be able to solve all the problems facing our educational system today but we must begin. It is time to take this step.

I have heard that this is the wrong bill and the wrong message at the wrong time. I have heard that it is an insult to our hard-working teachers and educators that come to work every day and are committed to providing every child with the opportunity to learn. I want to be clear – teachers are the single most important part of our educational system. This bill is not a commentary in any way about a failure of our teachers. It is a recognition that our teachers deserve better and a recognition that our state’s definition of basic education has failed to keep pace with the evolving expectations of society and has failed our teachers.

So why do we need this bill now, of all times? Because our class size is 46th in the nation. Because our dropout rate is between 20 and 30 percent, and our teacher compensation is 21st in the nation. That is unacceptable. Our students and our educators deserve much more than an education system that was defined 30 years ago. I know that changing an educational system for almost 1 million students and over 2,000 schools takes time. It cannot happen in one legislative session. However, we must not let an inability to make immediate whole-scale change discourage us from making any progress.

We need to fund what we value and we must ensure that our commitment to education is clearly defined. Only by clearly establishing our Constitutional duties now can we hold the state accountable in the future. There are many demands on our limited state resources – health care, family leave, hospitals and nursing homes, to name only a few. As we come out of this recession, and as the economy grows, our educational system needs to be first in line for restoration of cuts and it must remain at the top of the priority list for future investments. In order to provide the system the capacity to accommodate those investments, planning and phase-in must start now. An expanded definition of basic education obligates our state to fully fund the educational system that our teachers, schools, students and communities need today. With this expanded definition in place the state can start the process of preparing the system for future growth.

We also have a unique opportunity right now to try and access additional federal stimulus dollars to help us with initial, one-time investments. This legislation makes us more competitive to receive part of the more than $4 billion that is available for states in the “Race to the Top” grant. These funds are available to states that are making exceptional progress towards educational reform goals such as rigorous college-and-career ready standards, creation of data systems that help foster continuous improvement and a process for providing intensive support for challenged schools. The legislation passed by the Senate includes provisions and a plan for addressing each of these goals in a meaningful way and will hopefully help the state of Washington access this additional federal money.

For all of these reasons I support the important and difficult step we took this week. This legislation is not the end goal, only the beginning. It reflects months of hard work and negotiation with all education stakeholders. The bill passed by the Senate incorporates language from both the Full Funding Coalition’s proposal and recommendations from the Basic Education Task Force. It strives to plot a way forward, with a realistic implementation strategy based on shared responsibility and expectations for the state, school districts and schools. We must continue to embrace a respectful and steady process forward and I pledge that I will be here every step of the way.

We will do this together. This is about the children.

Yours,

Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe
Chair, Senate Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee

Remarks from education advocates on the passage of ESHB 2261

Education advocates celebrate the passage of the basic education finance reform legislation, ESHB 2261, by a vote of 26 to 23.  Our broad-based coalition includes Washington State PTA, League of Education Voters, State Board of Education, Washington Stand for Children, Washington Roundtable, TechAmerica, Partnership for Learning, Black Education Strategy Roundtable, numerous school boards and superintendents from across the state, and countless others.

Outlined below are quotes from the various coalition members.

Mary Jean Ryan, Chair, State Board of Education

“The State Board of Education strongly commends the Senate for taking this historic action. This is exactly the demonstration of leadership that the children of Washington State deserve. We urge the House to concur with this revised bill. This action will propel us forward. We are now committed and accountable to ensuring all students leave high school, college, or work ready. After too long a wait, Washington’s educational system is once again moving in the right direction.”

Cheryl Jones, Black Education Strategy Roundtable

“This is a great start toward reforming our education system and moving our children into a learning environment that puts their futures as a priority in our state.  As we work together to implement HB 2261, we are encouraged that all children will have access to a quality education and that we will continually work toward closing the achievement gap for minority and low income children.”

Jon Gould, Children’s Alliance and Early Learning Action Alliance

“We applaud the Senate for their historic vote today modernizing the definition of basic education. We thank Senators for including early learning in basic education and recognizing that smart investments in early learning yield positive returns for families and communities across Washington State. In these tough times, this farsighted policy puts early childhood education on a stronger footing for future growth. It’s a great day for children in Washington.”

Chris Korsmo, Executive Director, League of Education Voters

“We’re one step closer to making history for one million public school kids in our state.  These reforms take advantage of the latest evidence-based research to improve academic achievement for children.  Early learning, stronger graduation requirements and a longer school day will better prepare our kids for school and for life.

Including early learning in basic education will mean more children will start school ready to succeed and prevent the achievement gap from occurring.  This is the best investment we can make to improve outcomes for children.”

Shannon Campion, Executive Director, Washington Stand for Children

“This is an historic vote for Washington’s children.  Legislators today demonstrated that even during an economic crisis, we can stay focused on, and make marked progress toward, our vision of a world-class education system for all Washington’s children.”

Jennifer Boutell, Parent, Tacoma Public Schools

“Tacoma desperately needs these reforms.  My hope is that by the time my girls reach high school, the public school system will be able to prepare them for the 21st century economy.”

Terry Byington, Executive Director, TechAmerica

“In future years we’ll look back on this watershed moment and be thankful the Legislature took this stand to support students.”

Laura Bay, President, Washington State PTA

“Today is a great day for the children of Washington.  The Senate’s passage of HB 2261 is an important next step to set the State of Washington on the road toward fulfilling its constitutional obligation to provide ample funding for the education of all children.   We are on our way to fulfilling the goal of providing the education system we need to educate our children for success in today’s world.   Many legislators along with a strong coalition of education advocates, including volunteer PTA members from across the state have worked tirelessly in support of this effort.  We applaud the efforts and the courage of those who crafted this legislation and those who have voted for it. 

Having said that, we must all recognize that the fight is not yet won, because the bill now goes back to the House of Representatives for concurrence, and then to the Governor for her approval.  We encourage both the House and the Governor to take swift action because our kids can’t wait.”

“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.