Tuesday, February 28, 2012

SB 5967, Senate operations budget; support with 1 strong concern;

To: Senate Ways and Means Committee
Re: Proposed Senate 2012 Supplemental Operating Budget, striking amendment to SB 5967

Please fully commit to K12 education; please ensure kids get an education ombudsman

Dear Chairman Murray and committee members,

Washington State PTA’s priorities this session are to protect education and Apple Health for Kids, and we thank you for introducing a budget proposal that holds the line on cuts and identifies revenue to begin paying for the program of basic education that was promised back in 2009.

This leadership means a great deal to us.

We are a volunteer organization with more than 143,000 members. We work in the schools and we see the stress. We know the kids who can’t read, and we do our best to help the educators who struggle to support them. Kids always need champions, but after this recession they especially need them.

We realize the challenges of putting kids first and we deeply appreciate your efforts.

I do, however, have one area of great concern to point out. The Office of the Education Ombudsman takes a devastating and disproportionate hit in this budget. This statewide office operates on $547,000 a year and just 6 full-time employees. Your budget proposal calls for a loss of two employees and more than a quarter of its budget – including a 26 percent retroactive cut this year.

Under that scenario, this office would no longer be able to fulfill its mandate to promote equity in education and support the ability of all public school students to fully participate and benefit from public education.

What a tremendous loss that would be.

In my previous volunteer work as president of the Seattle Council PTSA I saw and heard firsthand the many ways a system's inability to deal with problems interfered with students’ rights, safety and educational needs. In my current position as Washington State PTA staff, I see and hear firsthand the commonality of these issues across the state. It is unfortunate, but the reality is that in our K-12 system problems often don't get solved -- like bullying, like overuse of no tolerance discipline policies, like failure to follow IEP plans of special education students.

The education ombudsman works to resolve conflict and keep kids in class. Its work is essential in closing the opportunity gap.

The office saves school districts millions of dollars in averted lawsuits and more importantly makes sure the “system” works for children. It provides professional services that volunteers cannot handle and it promotes continuous improvement from within. It also facilitates partnerships between families and educators – one of the most cost-effective strategies to improve educational outcomes. And at a price of about 50 cents a student, it is highly cost effective.

The Office of the Education Ombudsman is a wonderful resource for families and educators alike; but for kids – especially if they are somehow different -- it is just critical. And because so many of the issues the office deals with are common, and because the office offers conflict resolution -- not civil litigation -- bad practices and policies are identified and improved, benefiting ALL kids, not just litigants.

The nature of the work, however, requires a professional staff and an independent "official" status. This is not work, for instance, that PTA could handle. Three reasons:

  1. Confidentiality - The cases OEO intervenes in can be very complex and involve personal aspects of families, children and educators.  OEO has legal mandates of confidentiality and privilege.  Volunteers would have access to personal information and would not have the professional, ethical and legal constraints OEO staff has. 
  2. Credibility - OEO staff get results because of its credibility -- they are an impartial third party within the Governor's Office. Without that, it would be hard to get the attention of school and district administrators and solve problems.  It would be very hard for a volunteer to have that kind of standing within the system.
  3. Qualifications - Education Ombudsmen need to be well trained and knowledgeable of all aspects of public education, state and federal laws and conflict resolution. 
Please fully commit to “no education cuts” and adequately fund the office that protects the rights of students to learn. A cut of 5 percent going forward – as laid out in the House budget -- is manageable. Gutting the office and cutting staff down to four would kill it, and leave vulnerable children shut out.

Thanks so much for your consideration. And thanks, again, for your leadership on K-12. We support you.

Ramona Hattendorf
Government Relations Coordinator
Washington State PTA

No comments:

Post a Comment