Funding education is the single most important investment we can make in our state's future. In recent years, due in part to our state's budgetary woes, we have failed to adequately fund education, and our public schools have been the target of devastating cuts. The current funding crisis was highlighted by our Supreme Court in the McCleary decision, which identified Washington's failure to fulfill its constitutional duty to adequately fund basic education.
Where will the additional funding come from?
Meeting the demands of the McCleary decision will require new, dedicated revenue for education. By the next biennium, we must find an additional $1 billion in revenue to meet the next steps towards funding Basic Education as mandated by Supreme Court in McCleary. The anti-tax Republicans and Roadkill Democrats will demand we do this without new taxes. But, robbing other parts of the state budget will have disastrous effects, as we will be forced to cut aid to needy families and their children, the disabled, and the elderly. Education cannot be funded at the expense of the most vulnerable members of our society -- we must find additional revenue sources. This means that the 2/3 vote requirement of I-1053 must be removed, and our legislature must explore new revenue options.
I have already fought to ensure that the constraints of I-1053 will be eliminated, and I have worked to secure dedicated revenue for education by cosponsoring the HOPE Act and supporting the closure of the out-of-state sales tax exemption. I have been an outspoken advocate for new revenue and for education, and I look forward to continuing the fight to fully fund education.
The Critical Intersection of Social Services and Education
This past session, Senate Republicans tried to pass a budget that funded education but made severe cuts to social services. This shortsighted plan completely overlooked the critical role that social welfare programs play in helping our kids learn. Children don't learn if they are hungry. They don't learn well if their home is not stable, or if there isn't a parent or guardian involved in their learning. Interest groups and opinion leaders (including editorial writers) who call for fully funding education while opposing revenue increases are essentially disregarding our constitutional duty to provide education of "all children without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex." The latter half of that constitutional mandate is all too often ignored. We do not provide for the education of all children when we ignore providing for the opportunity to learn and succeed in school -- which requires providing for health, nutrition, and housing support for children and their families.
This year, I joined with 12 freshmen colleagues in urging that the House Democratic position be to restore over $100 million in proposed cuts to TANF and Working Connections childcare. Aid to Needy Families is essential to provide the nutritional food and stability of home for children to succeed in school. I also supported the expansion of Apple Health and worked to simplify enrollment. In Seattle, I have worked for Families and Education levies, which are essential to provide support for families, and for the health of school children, particularly teenagers who need confidential and easy access to reproductive and contraceptive services, screening, health care and information.
Encouraging Professional Development
Professional development programs are proven to enhance the effectiveness of teachers, and I wholeheartedly support salary and bonus awards for teachers who receive National Board certification. NBCT teachers not only improve the performance of the students in their own classrooms, but for the entire school. NBCT teachers spend incredible amounts of time, as well as large amounts of their own money, to achieve certification, and as a state, we made commitments to fund the steps for NTCB teachers and increased compensation for teaching in our most challenging schools. We must not break those commitments.
Meeting our obligations to fund "Basic Education" and how Charter Schools would impact those paramount duties:
Our state Constitution -- and our moral duty as citizens -- requires that we amply fund "general and uniform systems of schools" for "all children without distinction or preference."
For years, even before the recession, we have been robbing children of their future by failing to fund what our state has defined as "basic education." That definition of basic education is not even adequate -- leaving out early learning. Essentially, our definition of basic education is decades behind the science of child development, which shows we need to be providing essential learning experiences -- not just childcare -- from ages 3 to 5 for children to succeed throughout their public school careers.
I am a strong advocate for expanding the definition of basic education to include early learning opportunities and programs for all children. My record also includes working to expand our state's definition of basic education to include expanded high school curriculum for Language Arts (English), math, science, health and foreign languages.
Under the McCleary decision, we MUST find an extra one billion dollars to meet our obligations in the next biennium to fund the next steps expected by the Supreme Court to meet our existing definition of basic education. This does not even include early learning or full day kindergarten for every child!
Nor does this next step and the $1 billion needed include paying for the cost of providing the expanded teacher evaluation programs passed by the Legislature, and urged by the "education reform" community along with many others. We have to find tens of millions of new dollars to enable principals and vice-principals to spend time properly observing and evaluating teachers, and in helping them improve professionally. This includes paying for the administrative support in every school, where principals will now spend perhaps 40 or 50% of their time as educational leaders with our new evaluation and professional development system.
Now is the time for every parent, teacher and advocate for our children's education and our state's future to unite in a campaign to provide the funding needed to meet this basic obligation.
Therefore, I find it unfortunate and divisive to have those who advocated alongside me and many others for fully funding education, and who urged we adopt an extensive new teacher evaluation and development system, to be placing a charter school initiative on the ballot. We should be working to put before the voters a package to fund education and meet our Constitutional duties, and to have the Legislature consider that funding package (e.g., closing major loopholes and raising taxes with funds dedicated to schools) or face an initiative.
Charter schools have been a step towards privatization and, by definition, involve a loss of local control and de-professionalization of teachers. I am concerned that the so-called limited experiment sought for our state grew from a handful of schools to proposing 40 charter schools, and that this expansion is fueled by privatization and anti-union agendas. It is ironic that advocates for charter schools can't articulate why the "reforms" that they cite for charter schools' performance are not adoptable within public schools without ceding control to an outside operator, removing control from the local school district and removing representation of the educators.
Starting 40 new charter schools in Washington will conservatively divert at least $80 million -- $2 million per school -- in administrative and start up costs at a time we are struggling to provide lower class sizes and teacher development, and not paying for full day kindergarten.
There is no simple way to provide for charters in one neighborhood without leaving other children behind. Doing so violates our constitutional duties.
Let's focus on what we agree is our paramount duty: to fund schools for every child.