Wednesday, March 26, 2014

How to pay for fully funded basic education . . .

John Schuster posted a comment to Tuesday's post focused on the impasse in Olympia in responding to the McCleary ruling and April 30th legislative response.  He also shared a link to an article in the Seattle Times Education Blog by WASA Executive Director Bill Keim urging voters to get serious about school funding.   His message to voters is to get educated and consider the quality of education they want for our state and how to fund it.

One of the obvious causes of the Olympia stalemate is the cost to fully fund basic education in our state, estimated in the article to be about $5 billion per year and to reach the national school funding average about $2.5 billion per year.  Funding at this level will require new taxes, closing loop holes will not generate this level of funding and many in Olympia and in our state are adamantly opposed to raising current or generating new taxes.  Keim suggests that voters may need to consider the referendum and initiative processes if legislators and the court cannot reconcile their differences.  Again, it will be important to see how the legislators respond on April 30th.

In the article Keim shares a chart comparing spending in Washington to Massachusetts and Alabama.  He shares the data to demonstrate that funding has not kept pace with the increase in student achievement as measured by the NAEP assessment.  Yes, the legislators are faced with a very difficult decision, a decision that should be based on the current reality of public education in our state, not on national rhetoric or the reformists calls for competition, charters, and business practices.  The reality is one that suggests across the state we are seeing gains in student achievement and have earned the right to continue our journey without additional one size fits all mandates.

Any review of how we got to this point would include the passage of House Bill 1209 in 1993. It was intended to improve both the funding and performance of our schools. Two decades after that bill passed, there has been a remarkable increase in student achievement. Washington is now among the top 10 states on the National Assessment of Student Progress (NAEP), but the funding hasn’t followed.

The infographic below uses data from Education Week’s Quality Counts report to illustrate that point. The comparison with Massachusetts is interesting, because they are similar in size, demographics, economic base and rigorous learning standards. Alabama is included to show how we compare to a state with lower initial funding and NAEP scores among the bottom 10 in the nation.

In 1995, Washington was slightly behind both the national average and Massachusetts, and a good bit ahead of Alabama. By 2011, Washington’s per student funding was significantly lower than all three comparisons. Washington has dropped to 41st in the nation in both per student funding and the Quality Counts measure of the state’s funding effort.

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