The issue of education reform did not just appear overnight. In recent years, Democrats have given Washington’s public k-12 system a thorough left-to-right, top-to-bottom examination. We have written major reforms to deliver the positive student outcomes Washington’s families and businesses expect from our public schools. We have even passed them into law. But, thanks to the Great Recession, they have never been funded and so have not been given time to work.
This session, Senate Democrats are focused on continuing to make meaningful changes that will help students. And we are leading the way on the next big reform – implementing and funding the dramatic plans for improvement that are in place today.
These plans include:
- A prototype for high-quality instruction (a process begun in 2005)
- A new teacher certification system (a process begun in 2007)
- Development of effective dropout and intervention programs (a process begun in 2007)
- New teacher and principal evaluations (a process begun in 2010)
- New student standards and assessments (a process begun in 2010)
- New accountability and intervention provisions for low-achieving schools (a process begun in 2010)
- Collaboration between struggling schools and colleges and universities (a process begun in 2012)
In discussing its McCleary decision, the Supreme Court recently said, “the Legislature recently enacted a promising reform package … which if fully funded, will remedy deficiencies in the K-12 funding system.”
We need to commit to providing the $1.4 billion the Joint Task Force on Education Funding recently recommended be on the table this session. This commitment will begin to fund the reforms we made the last time we had this debate, and give them an opportunity to help teachers and students succeed. Some have suggested that McCleary is not just about funding, it’s about reform. This is absolutely correct: McCleary is about funding the major reforms Democrats have already passed and are already on the books.
While we do not believe that reform for the sake of reform is how we can best help student succeed, we also recognize that funding for the sake of funding is not the answer either. We are proposing to target new education funding into programs that research tells us will produce meaning changes that will help students in the areas – closing the opportunity gap, improving student achievement and reducing the dropout rate – where we our students need help the most.
When we have been able to fund intervention programs, we have achieved excellent results. Washington’s low-performing schools receiving federal School Improvement Grants outperformed schools in every state in every category: math and reading in elementary, middle and high school. Hawthorne Elementary School in Everett has used $1 million a year for three years to fund proven, evidence-based programs – which Hawthorne has used to close its opportunity gap.
Reforming the reforms without paying for them or giving them a chance to work only destabilizes our system and is unfair to our kids. We want to fund efforts like those mentioned above that research and experience tells us are most effective. And we are happy to work with the other side to consider additional measures that can deliver these outcomes.
But we believe we should only pursue further reforms in addition to and in concert with – not instead of – funding existing reforms. And we should not pursue further reforms that we are not prepared to fund. Passing more reform legislation that is “subject to appropriation” is not breaking the cycle of unfunded reforms.
It’s just perpetuating it.