|4/17/2013 9:39:00 AM|
Education funding heads up debate in legislature
The state Supreme Court has ruled that the state of Washington has failed to fund basic education as required by the state constitution. The court provided no guidance as to what actually constitutes basic education or what would constitute adequate funding. Now the Governor, state Senate and House are locked in debate about what that means.
The governor is proposing to increase funding by raising new taxes and extending taxes scheduled to expire to the tune of $1.2 billion. The Senate plans to increase education funding by $1.5 billion by tapping the estimated $2 billion in estimated new revenues they expect to receive in the next biennium. Randy Dorn, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, is calling for a $4 billion increase in school funding. Dorn offers no suggestion on how the state would fund that increase.
Currently, the state budget for education is the largest expense in the general fund budget at $13.6 billion or 43.9 percent of the general fund. The governor is proposing an 8.8 percent increase, the Senate is proposing an 11 percent increase and Superintendent Dorn is proposing a 29.4 percent increase.
But money is not the only education issue being debated in Olympia this session. The debate goes on over adding full day kindergarten, reducing class sizes, and increasing the number of instructional hours.
One thing that appeared to be a slam-dunk early in the session was a simplified way for parents to judge the success of their local school districts in educating their children. Governor Inslee campaigned on it and the Senate coalition offered a bill proposing a letter grading system based on the states Achievement Index. Sounds simple enough - a letter grade of A-F would alert parents as to how well their local school district is doing in teaching the basic courses of reading, writing, math, and science. But now the governor says the proposal needs more study.
Chelan School District Superintendent Rob Manahan said he is not a fan of the letter grade idea.
"The intent is to inform parents how their schools are doing but most parents know how their schools are doing," Manahan said. "Secondly it seems like they are trying to motivate teachers and principals and all the staff to work harder but our teachers, admin, and staff work extremely hard and to suggest we are not is insulting."
The Chelan School District averaged the letter grade of C for the elementary school, D for the middle school, and A for the high school. When asked about the letter grade, Manahan said looking at the outcome, of a student graduating from an A school, one needs to consider it is a reflection of the entire district not just the high school.
"You're coming out of a school with rigorous course work and opportunities," he said. "We have a 97.5 percent graduation rate out of the high school. This system creates exceptional kids."
Manahan did not deny there are areas in the Chelan school system that need work. He said like other schools, Chelan needs to work on target populations such as English Language Learners and those students in poverty.
"Bottom line is when you come out of our system you have graduated from a system recognized as one of the top in the state and being recognized for high progress and improvement over the last three years," Manahan said. "That takes a strong kindergarten teacher, a strong sixth grade teacher, and a strong high school teacher to have that result."
The Manson School district received even lower results than Chelan. The elementary school was given an F and the middle and high school were given a D. Entiat averaged a D in the elementary and a C in the middle and high school.
For its part the Washington Education Association has attacked many of the efforts to reform the education system currently being discussed in the legislature including the effort to provide a letter grade on school performance. The WEA receives $33 million per year in mandatory dues for representing teachers.
There is little argument that something needs to be done as Washington Schools are now ranked 42nd in the nation for high school graduation. However Chelan is recognized as being in the top ten percent of the state for their graduation rate. One proposal on the table to address this issue is to modify high school diplomas to recognize vocational skill as an alternative to academic achievement. It does not look like this proposal will make it through the legislative process at this point.
Kacie Thrift may be reached at 682-2213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bill Forhan may be reached at 548-5286 or Billf@leavenworthecho.com.
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