It’s not just the promise of green beer that has policy makers and advocates alike skipping through the almost-poked-up tulips; it’s that session ended on time and with an agreement many policymakers believe will satisfy the Supreme Court’s mandate in the McCleary decision. To get a sense for how it went, you can peek at our blog and our progress trackers. You might also get a feel from how the school district leaders are looking at things or check out our analysis from our last “LEVinar.” If you love context, you’ll love this national overview of education funding.
It’s so good to be back with you! After a three month sabbatical, I’m renewed and refreshed, ready to hit the ground running.
Sadly it’s hard to know where to begin when so much promise, talent and opportunity came to an end – again – in a school in Florida. Another mass shooting, another school, another day of horror and grief. I have a sixth grader and a spouse who’s an elementary school principal. I know this is my worst fear. I also know this has to stop. I feel like my head will explode if one more person says we need a national conversation about gun violence. It feels like we have that conversation many times a year – after another incidence of gun violence. Thoughts and prayers? Pray for the courage it takes to do the right thing. And think when you fill out your ballot.
No, you fickle weather babies, it’s not summer. Which arrives Wednesday of next week and leaves about September 3. It’s not the Sunday Amazon Prime cat food delivery, either. And while it might feel like it to legislators, it’s not Christmas in (almost) July. The “it” in question is the state budget. After a full regular session, three special sessions, a gang of eight, a four-corner agreement and a partridge in a pear tree, we have a proposed budget. With little time to review and a government shut- down looming, legislators will take up the $47B + measure later today. Winner? Well, McCleary, it’s your birthday, get your dance on, it’s your birthday. If you’re not doing the cabbage patch or sprinkler by now, you’re not feeling the gravity of the moment. Yes, the devil’s in the details – and those are several hundred pages long – the legislature is proposing a historic increase in education funding and dedicated funds toward historically underserved student populations – including a new funding stream for high poverty schools that guarantees targeted resources for academically struggling students in those schools.
Well. What to say? No. Really. What is there to say? We aren’t going to talk about politics in the other Washington lest we start looking for an all-too-early excuse for room temperature chardonnay. And there’s not been a ton of progress – not public anyway – on the state budget. Fret not! It’s never a bad time to get smarter about education funding. (Put down that chardonnay! Learning is fun!)
They Call Me McCleary: First, you can catch yourself up on where things stand in the negotiations over ed funding – often shorthanded by the name of the court case the state is responding to: McCleary. Don’t miss the fight over the “Staff Mix” in the budget debate or you’ll never get the full story on how we build and perpetuate inequitable funding systems. If you’re going to understand ed funding, it’s good to know where the money goes. And, lest you forget, the people that make up the bulk of the system’s budget have thoughts on how the money should be used.
While we wrestle this issue to the ground and then some other states are working to solve the same problem.
Whenever the house goes quiet, the hair on the back of my neck goes up and my Spidey senses ask: what are they up to? In my case, “they” would be the neighborhood boys who congregate in the basement. In the context of the legislature, it’s, well… the legislature. It might seem like all’s quiet on the western front, but we know better.
Where all metaphors for things that take longer than planned – again – are pulled out. The legislative session is wrapping up without a budget agreement, which means lawmakers will be called back into special session. For some this is Groundhog Day. For others it’s Mad Magazine. Still others envision a multi-year advent calendar of legislative treasures. And of course, there are the inevitable sports event references. For you Dragnet fans from the Wayback Machine, we even have a “just the facts, ma’am” approach to the effort. However the story gets covered, the plain and simple truth of the matter is that education funding – resolving the over-reliance on local levies while also making targeted investments to improve outcomes – is the major sticking point. Legislators will adjourn over the weekend with much work left to do – let’s hope they aren’t making a deal more difficult on the way out.
If they’re looking for guidance, the Superintendents of Education Service District 189 have some suggestions worth considering. While they’re at it, let’s build in more transparency into the system so that it doesn’t take a massive investment from Steve Ballmer to actually follow the money.
Meanwhile, you can track all that is – or isn’t – happening here on our bill tracker. And hear from one of the 8 legislators working to craft an education compromise, Senator Ann Rivers, here.
In other news:
I’ve marched for a lot of things. But never did I think we’d have to do it for science.
Marchers, leave that plastic water bottle on the shelf and fill a reusable…
It’s that time – March Madness culminates in the crowning of a champ. Go Dawgs!
The Zags’ road to a championship notwithstanding, then there were three. State budgets that is. A week after the Senate put forward their $43 billion spending plan, the House has issued their $44.9 B budget. The plans differ in a couple of key ways: the obvious difference in size and how to pay for things. With many expecting legislative overtime, the path to agreement is almost always compromise, something that did not go unnoticed by OSPI chief Chris Reykdal. One thing is for sure, our kids need a resolution that helps them succeed. And that doesn’t mean cutting back on out of school programs and supports like the POTUS’ “skinny” budget does. I wonder if the skinny budget isn’t just “hangry.”
One thing not included in the House budget: alternatives to the state exams currently required to graduate. That’s because the House removes the requirement for the tests – and therefore their alternatives. I think you know how I feel. Others agree.
In other news:
Changes to the FAFSA – financial aid forms for college – are making life difficult for some.
Before we go, I want to send a huge thank you to all who joined us for the LEV breakfast yesterday. The messages of hope and love for their work came through loud and clear from Teachers of the Year Kendra Yamamoto and Elizabeth Loftus! Many thanks to them for their wonderful insights – and for their leadership in their regions.
And as always, many thanks to you for the work you do to support Washington’s kids!
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If you’re playing along at home, we are two weeks past the midway point of the legislative session. You can keep score here. Let’s dive right in.
If You Spend it They Will Come: If it’s true what Oscar Wilde (and with slight revisions, P.T. Barnum) said, “the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about,” then Senate Republicans should feel great about their budget coverage. You cannot swing a dirty sweat sock in this town without breathless headlines and clever turns of phrase. With a $1.8 billion increase to K-12 education, Senate Republicans have said they are fully funding “basic education,” the point of the McCleary decision and subsequent rulings by the Supreme Court. The budget gives further legs to the Senate’s education plan released earlier this session with levy reform playing a leading role in the “how to pay for it” discussion. We can all agree that there’s also a price when we don’t pay…
This opening budget salvo did come at a price to higher education, early learning, housing and food assistance – cuts we hope are restored (and then some) when final negotiation are under way. And at the time of this writing it looks like Republican senators are open to those conversations. With the Senate budget out, we expect the House to put their plan forward next week. Both chambers would do well to invite this journalist to the negotiating party.
Rigorous Rigor: Last week I had a little soapbox moment about the attempts to roll back high school graduation requirements. This week, there’s more evidence that raising expectations (and supports) raises outcomes. Sometimes you gotta ask yourself whether it’s funny when you’re the butt of the joke.
De Minimizing the De Minimis: You may have noticed the Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch was engaged in multiple rounds of Senate confirmation hearings this week. A funny thing happened on the way to the marble arch. The U.S. Supreme Court – they of the even numbered variety for over a year now – managed a unanimous decision. On special education. Overturning a case from the 10th Circuit from which Gorsuch hails. I’m not one who typically exalts the writings of Chief Justice Roberts, but do not miss this:
“When all is said and done, a student offered an educational program providing ‘merely more than de minimis’ progress from year to year can hardly be said to have been offered an education at all,” wrote Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., who wrote the 16-page opinion. “For children with disabilities, receiving instruction that aims so low would be tantamount to ‘sitting idly… awaiting the time when they were old enough to “drop out.” ’ ”
You ever play those meeting “icebreaker” games where you have to indicate which tree you’d be, or what animal you were in a past life? If the legislature were a condiment, what would it be? My vote this week is ghost pepper sauce. Discuss.
Money, Money, Money, Money. Money! When last we met we shared the news that the legislature had averted multiple local education funding crises by passing an extension of the levy cliff. This was welcome news for many, even as attention quickly turned to the bigger issue, McCleary. The good news? The economic forecast is sunny. The bad news? Well, for now, there really isn’t any. Yes, the two sides might bicker from time to time and we don’t yet have a final plan to fund, but we will. Our aim is to make sure more of the resources intended for kids who need something more or different – see gaps diatribe below – actually get those resources. Even while we build a compensation system that our education professionals find both fair and energizing.
Next week we’ll get our first look at how the Senate will address education funding when they release their budget. Expect the House version the week after. Here’s how things stack up so far.
Testing Testing: The state’s long love affair with the testing debate will air in all its glory next week when Senate Education takes up HB 1046, the House bill that “delinks” passing the state’s math, English language arts and science exams from high school graduation. Superintendent Reykdal was asked about it recently and spoke in support of removing the requirements. We’ve long taken a different position, that delinking the exams makes it difficult to know whether they’re taken seriously. As the only consistent statewide measures of proficiency, we need good – comparable – data that tells us how our students are doing and importantly, how students fare by groups. We’ve long said we can’t close gaps we can’t see. Between the national moves to reduce federal oversight – or even expectations – and the state wanting to no longer (accurately) capture this information, our kids caught in the opportunity and achievement gaps will be invisible. And, sadly, kids who think they’re college material because they can pass the high school courses that meet the graduation requirements will often find out that they are in fact, NOT ready for prime time. For a state with the kind of student academic performance we have – only 31% of our kids get a degree or certificate from a two- or four-year college – this is a major step backward. Proponents will say that kids are the only ones being held accountable for proficiency – the graduation requirements are high stakes exit exams. It’s true our system is not a bastion of accountability. But eliminating the little bit that we have will only hide the gaps, mislead our kids, and drive our degree completion rates in the wrong direction. (How do I really feel?)
While we’re talking about money, the President’s budget was released this week and it is not a good time to be poor, or a first-generation college student, or a kid in after school programs. The good news here is that a President’s budget is typically just a conversation starter. And, by the looks of it, everybody’s talking.
If the legislative session were the Super Bowl, Lady Gaga would be pretending to drop through a hole in the Capitol roof – it’s halftime! Sort of. Whatever time it is, you can always catch up on the action with our bill tracker. You might also check out our podcast series, including the newest one with Senator Hans Zeiger, Chair of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. Let’s take a look at how things are going.
Progress: That wind storm that rocked the western half of Washington may have been caused by the collective exhale of school district officials upon the news that the legislature passed an extension of the so-called Levy Cliff. With expanded levy capacity set to expire at the end of the year and levies to drop, districts were scrambling to figure out how to avoid sending out pink slips to staff. Now the legislature can settle in to resolve the rest of the K-12 funding situation – including a reprisal of sorts of the McCleary task force, an 8-member group tasked with drawing up a final plan. While much of the discussion so far has focused on the State’s obligation under the McCleary ruling, there’s been good movement in thinking about how to get more resources to kids who need more – how to ensure that money allocated to close gaps and accelerate results for struggling students. We aren’t the only state trying to unleash the potential that this moment holds. However we go about it, we’d like to see more of this. And this.
Regress: Even as the Legislature buckles down on the funding issues, we can feel the slow shifting of the ground – ground we thought we’d already covered – underneath us. Bills to reduce graduation requirements and undo the State Board of Education continue to be debated. In case you missed it, the Washington Round Table issued a report showing both the heightened expectations for our workforce of tomorrow and the underwhelming way in which we prepare our kids for those opportunities. Backward is how you get out of a driveway. Not how progress is made.
Purple goes the way of analog. Legislative and Congressional districts aren’t the only places where politics are undivided.
There’s an algorithm for that.
That’s all for now, kids! I’ve got to get my hands mani on before the PTA auction tonight. Can’t raise a paddle with claws like this, now can we? As always, thank you for all you do on behalf of our kids! And keep it up! Halfway isn’t all the way, but it’s a good start.
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