The Washington State Constitution states, "It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders . . . ." That's why I co-sponsored legislation to Fund Education First as a separate budget, before any other expenditures are considered. That way we won't have the excuse that we have heard from the Democrat majority has used over the past eight years that they would have liked to spend more on education over the past eight years, but they just ran out of money. Unfortunately, the majority party would not allow a vote on this bill.
We spend about $11,000 per student per year on education, about the national average. That's over a quarter of a million dollars for a classroom of 25. If I gave my daughter, who teaches math at Auburn High School, all of the quarter of a million dollars we spent on her students, she could rent classroom space, provide top notch materials and instruction, and be thrilled with her huge paycheck. If an individual teacher could do that, you would think that our state education system, with the buying power of a large organization, would be even more efficient.
However, our state supreme court recently ruled that we are not adequately funding education. That doesn't necessarily mean that we just need to throw more money at education. We also need to make sure we are spending it wisely. This is especially important because in a recent international student assessment of 29 nations, America ranked 24th. We have to do better.
In 2008, when multi-million dollar grants were offered to seven states to fund Advanced Placement programs in math and science, Washington was the only state to decline the $13.2 million, because Washington law so rigidly insists that teachers' pay must only be negotiated by the WEA. Teachers cannot be rewarded for extra work, and students won't have the extra opportunities that the grant would allow. How can we expect to improve our education system when we can't even accept free money to make improvements?
The free market, capitalistic system that made this country the greatest on earth has proven that human beings will work harder and achieve more when they see that they are able to earn rewards for their efforts. When the teachers at Pateros Elementary School near Wenatchee showed that a school with low income families and large populations of minority students can achieve great results, their only reward was the satisfaction in a job well done. I support rewarding their efforts, encouraging other schools to try creative ways to improve their students' performance.
The rigid, top-heavy and expensive control of our education system prevents the money making its way down to the actual classroom level, where decisions can be made by the our competent educators, rather that dictated from the upper, far-removed levels of our education system administration. We need to trust our educators to use the money wisely at their local level and reward them for improved results.
I was encouraged to see that the Seattle teachers' union recently agreed to the concept of "innovation" schools that have shown significant achievement results in Colorado. With their new ability to apply for exemptions from state policies and collective bargaining agreements, their enhanced autonomy and associated accountability will likely show similar improved performance. Additionally, these schools will be able to select the best teachers, not just the most senior, and reward them for excellence.
This is exactly what we need in Washington State to improve our schools and compete for federal Race to the Top funding. That's why my very first bill I introduced in the legislature was my Innovation Schools bill, which seeks to enable teachers and parents at the local level to come up with innovative solutions that match the needs of their children whom they know the best.
Every politician and elected official will tell you that education is very important. My hope is that with a new majority elected this November, we see a legislature whose actions match those words.