Passing “HB 2261” was about a vision for kids. Will it survive?
Bills this session could either advance or undermine PTA’s goal of redefining basic education to give every child a strong foundation. Early bills looked at walking away from full-day kindergarten and extra science and arts; and pulling 24 credits out of the definition of basic education. Other bills took on discipline issues; opportunity gaps around communication and cultural competence; and dropout prevention, intervention and re-engagement. And rumor is a mystery "big bill" is in play in the Senate. But there has been no hearing. We’ll know this weekend what’s still in play.
So what was the grand push for, back in 2009, when education advocates swept into Olympia and rallied to pass the funding reform bill, ESHB 2261?
Smaller K-3 class sizes and full-day kindergarten were certainly part of the equation. But more fundamentally, 2009’s Engrossed Substitute House Bill 2261 was about implementing a K-12 structure and supports to ensure all children have the opportunity to meet rigorous learning standards, and all children graduate having completed a course of study that aligns to their personal goals and prepares them for career or college.
Students need a solid foundation. They need attention and support. They need adequate instructional time. They need a variety of courses to prepare them for life after high school. Students are diverse – culturally, linguistically, economically and developmentally. Our system of schools needs to accommodate all of this.
Our motivating concern in 2009 was that while educational excellence could certainly be found, it was not systemic and it was not financed in a stable and equitable manner. Fundamentally, what the state allocated for did not align with what our educators and schools needed or were trying to do. Some of our children struggled to achieve, and had for decades. In some cases they started behind and stayed behind. In others, they didn’t receive the supports promised and needed.
Other kids did fine, but only with thousands of volunteer hours donated to their schools, and in some cases hundreds of thousands in cash, annually.
We wanted to fix that.
Dubbed “basic education funding reform,” ESHB 2261 involved an integrated early learning approach through grade 3, and enough instructional hours in middle and high school to fully cover a six-period day -- for every child. It involved funding for struggling learners, special education students, English language learners, and highly capable students. It involved adequate staffing for counselors, librarians and family involvement coordinators. It involved access to arts and physical education, to career and technical education, and to a basic college-prep offering. It involved access to the levels of science and math that so many kids need for today’s great jobs.
When the news media discusses school funding they zero in on class size and compensation, and those are certainly issues at play with the McCleary ruling on school funding. But they are not the essence of what the state agreed to fund in HB 2261, or the legal definition of “basic education.”
For Washington State PTA, the push back in 2009 was about more science, art and math. About a guarantee that world languages wouldn’t be considered (and funded as) “extra.” It was about accommodating applied learning – whether it happened in STEM study (science, technology, engineering and math), “shop classes” or skill centers.
It was about making sure that “basic education” – the minimum that every child had access to – was also a pretty decent education. That kids didn’t have to live in the right zip code to take plenty of rigorous, enriching classes; didn’t have to have savvy parents to know which classes they needed for a decent shot at college or a competitive trade program. That they had the foundation to not just get into a program, but to succeed once there.
And mostly, it was about making sure we didn’t have to sell wrapping paper or get an excess levy passed to make sure kids got what they needed. That stuff is for field trips, cultural events and after-school programming. NOT basic education.
Ample, stable, equitable funding for a general and uniform system of schools that prepares kids for career or college and citizenship.
That’s what 2009 and ESHB 2261 were all about.
Bills that look promising:
- HB 1424, K-12 dropout prevention (passed policy committee)
- HB 1692, Career and college ready (action pending in policy committee)
- HB 1177, accountability (passed policy committee)
- HB 1650, career exploration (action pending in policy committee)
- HB 1680, opportunity gap (action pending in policy committee)
- SSB 5237, student performance, reading (it is evolving and much improved. Next stop: floor vote if passes by rules committee). Companion: PHSB 1452 (action pending in policy committee)
- HB 1872, STEM partnerships (the governor’s bill; action pending in policy committee)
- SSB 5365, Troubled youth in schools (passed policy committee; scheduled for hearing in Ways and Means)
- SSB 5244, School suspensions (Next stop: floor vote if passes by Rules committee)
Bills still under evaluation:
- HB 1450, Public school assessments (still no clear vision; interesting amendments filed; action pending)
- SSB 5329, accountability (improved – took out requirement to transfer struggling schools to private management companies; action pending in Ways and Means)
Bills that conflict with our platform:
- HB 1656, flexibility in graduation requirements (We like flexibility for students, but the state board requirements also have flexibility and include the additional science and arts credits we call for in our resolutions. Passing HB 1692 and HB 1650 would be a better deal for kids and align with our top priority. This bill specifically calls for pulling 24 credits out of the definition of basic education. It drops credits in science and arts. Kids should be opted into a great education and then given the chance to tailor it. They shouldn't be tracked, and they shouldn't have rigorous and enriching classes subject to "local control," a successful levy or fund-raising.
- Ramona Hattendorf, Government Relations Coordinator, Washington State PTA