Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Invest and prepare students for life

  • Yes to policy bills that support reading and career and college readiness for all students. E2SSB 5237 and SHB 1692
  • Yes to reviewing tax preferences and making adjustments to support K-12 and higher education. HB 2028
  • Yes, to a budget that uses a balanced approach, identifies stable revenue, and charts out a linear path to fully funding K-12 education while maintaining programs that keep children healthy, safe and fed and that get our youngest ready for kindergarten.

Message to Olympia:

Invest in early learning (defined as birth through third grade) and give all children a strong foundation. Invest in middle and high school to give them access to courses that will prepare them for career or college. Cover other basic K-12 costs that are going underfunded -- or clearly identify when full funding for them will be phased in.

Click here to take action and send an email to your legislators.

A message to members:

Washington State PTA's legislative priorities align with the House revenue approach to the 2013-15 operations budget as well as to key education policy bills intended to support all learners and raise the bar for all children by giving each the opportunity to complete a 24-credit diploma that aligns with career or college requirements.

Basic education includes reading, a strong foundation in the K-3 years, and access to courses in middle and high school that prepare children to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in our democracy.
As this legislative session moves into negotiations and leaders in Olympia make choices that will either create or shut off opportunities for our children, we have prioritized some key end-of-session bills, including ones that identify revenue resources needed for education and programs that keep kids healthy, safe and fed. Please read on for bills, rationale, and context.

No longer can we accept that a third of our children struggle or fail to meet basic reading levels at 4th grade, and continue to struggle with all subjects throughout their K-12 years. Children need screening and diagnostic testing in the K-3 years so their teachers can identify why certain students are struggling to read (it will vary by child), and can implement timely, classroom-based interventions and appropriate instruction that uses evidence-based materials – that is, direct, explicit, multi-sensory, and systematic literacy instruction that includes phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, spelling, and writing.

Plans to support readers need to start in kindergarten, and not wait until student failure in third grade. While required interventions for students who continue to struggle in fourth grade and beyond would be welcome, a proactive approach is essential starting in kindergarten. Schools need to meet the child’s needs and if necessary adapt their instructional approach to accommodate all learners.

Yes to E2SSB 5237-Student Performance, Reading (House Education Committee striker). The House version addresses necessary K-3 interventions.
No longer can our expectations for students end at 10th grade. Our state relies on the ability of these teenagers to become our business leaders, our engineers and scientists, our builders and craftsmen, our teachers, our analysts, our musicians, artists and writers. Our new standards in English language arts and math get us partway there, but we still need to make sure all kids have access to the instructional time and variety of courses they need to prepare for the world of work, college or advanced training.

Yes to SHB 1692, Career and college ready supports and coursework for kids.
No longer can we let access to quality early learning in the birth to third grade years limit our children, especially our most at-risk youth. It doesn’t make sense morally or economically.

Yes, to budget proposals that invest in preschool, full-day kindergarten and small K-3 class sizes. All evidence-based, money saving solutions.
No longer can we dance around the reality that our public education system is severely underfunded and inequitable, relying not only on excess local taxes to pick up the state’s bill, but on millions of dollars in fund-raising and volunteer time. A school that gets an additional uncounted $500 a year in in per pupil donations, plus volunteerism and family engagement worth another $1000 per student, isn’t efficient, it is privileged. When we start transferring shared public costs to private fund-raisers and student fees we dig a deeper divide between the haves and have-nots.

Yes to HB 2038. It is time we prioritized our children’s education over outdated tax preferences.

Yes to ESB 5843. It is time we set up a rigorous review process for tax preferences. We need to address education funding first, then carefully review all spending to ensure we have adequate revenue to support our state’s needs. Tax breaks are part of the equation.
Washington State has been pondering this issue – what’s the baseline for a decent education? – for decades. We have been reviewing research and studying what needs to be done to prepare our children and help them reach their potential since 2005.
The delays need to stop.

It’s time to push ahead, implement the funding plan drafted, vetted and voted on in 2009, and invest in the future we all want. And we need to do so without sacrificing programs that children and families rely on – especially ones that make sure kids are healthy, safe and fed.

We support revenue to raise the bar for all

Context: Stable, state revenue required, per court order. General and uniform schools are a constitutional mandate

The House approach to budget and revenue for the 2013-15 biennium aligns with Washington State PTA’s top legislative priority, and it responds to the direction given by the state supreme court.

Not only is it the state’s paramount duty to amply fund education, the state must also provide for a general and uniform system of schools that give all children the opportunity to prepare to compete in today’s economy and meaningfully participate in this state’s democracy, per the state constitution and legal interpretations of “education.”

Outcomes aren’t guaranteed, but legally opportunity includes access to adequate instruction that gives children the chance to master grade level expectations. Washington State PTA has long lobbied, and the state agreed in 2009, to broaden the concept of basic education to expand expectations beyond the 10th grade and to include such essentials as counselors, librarians and other support staff. With HB 2261, the state embraced these costs as well as a 24-credit diploma that aligned with career or college expectations. It took kids through high school.

In 2010, the legislature followed with HB 2776 and laid out the funding schedule needed for investment in children’s K-3 years. It also followed that year with SB 6696 and committed to learning standards that pushed past 10th grade and that are designed for career and college readiness. It also put into place reforms around accountability to ensure the public school system – at state and local levels -- followed through for our million-plus public school students.

The state continues to finetune its accountability measures. It has failed, however, to fund its legislation, and over the course of the last 3 years proceeded to cut about $2.7 billion out of an already under-funded K-12 system. In 2009, the superior court ruled the state was failing its paramount duty to amply fund education. In 2012, the state supreme court agreed, and ruled the state must increase funding. Among its findings:
  • “The word “ample” in article IX, section 1 provides a broad constitutional guideline meaning fully, sufficient, and considerably more than just adequate.”
  • “Ample funding for basic education must be accomplished by means of dependable and regular tax sources.”
  • “The legislature recently enacted a promising reform package under ESHB 2261, 61st Leg., Reg. Sess. (Wash. 2009), which if fully funded, will remedy deficiencies in the K-12 funding system.”
To comply with court rulings, the legislature must create a funding stream that shifts the burden away from local taxes while also bringing in additional revenue. The state supreme court has ruled the current system is neither ample, nor regular and dependable. Its McCleary decision requires an infusion of billions of dollars within a relatively short timeframe of 5 years.
The legislature must make significant progress to comply with its legal mandate. And in doing so, it cannot rely on either federal or local funding to meet basic education costs. Both were specifically rejected by the Washington State Supreme Court in its McCleary decision.
“Specifically, the State argues that the constitution allows it to make ample provision for education using federal funds as well as local funds not derived from excess levies We disagree. Our insistence on “regular and dependable tax sources” in Seattle School District focused appropriately on state-provided funding. Contrary to the State’s view, we rejected special excess levies as “dependable and regular” not only because they are subject to the whim of the electorate, but also because they are too variable insofar as levies depend on the assessed valuation of taxable real property at the local level. … This latter justification implicates both the equity and the adequacy of the K-12 funding system. Districts with high property values are able to raise more levy dollars than districts with low property values, thus affecting the equity of a statewide system.
“Conversely, property-poor districts, even if they maximize their local levy capacity, will often fall short of funding a constitutionally adequate education. All local-level funding, whether by levy or otherwise, suffers from this same infirmity. In short, the State’s reliance on local dollars to support the basic education program fails to provide the “ample” funding article IX, section 1 requires.
“Similarly, we find it difficult to characterize federal funding of certain education programs as a ‘regular and dependable tax source,’ ... Because federal dollars generally come with strings attached, the State may have little or no say on whether federal resources go toward the basic education program or some other program.”
McCleary, et us., et al. v State of Washington

Washington State PTA’s top legislative priority is to fully implement basic education as laid out in 2009’s HB 2261 and including the 24-credit career and college ready diploma, as well as implementing the system reforms laid out in 2010’s SB 6696 to address school and school district accountability, educator preparation, teacher and principal evaluations, college and career academic standards, and family and community involvement in schools.
We are asking that significant money be put into K-12. Not hundreds of millions, but billions in additional revenue. A child’s education should not depend on whether a local levy can pass every few years.   It should not depend on fund-raising. It should not depend on private fees for instruction, supplies and curriculum.

The dollars may run into the billions, but what they will cover is pretty basic, and speaks to the extent that our schools are underfunded:
  • Money to invest in the K-3 years. Make voluntary, full-day kindergarten available to all, and not offered as a fee-based extra available to some or to only the poorest. Also, fund small, K-3 classes. These steps, coupled with increased access to preschool and strong family engagement, give every learner a great foundation. They are evidence-based, end up saving the K-12 system money in the long run, and result in higher graduation rates, higher college attendance, and higher rates of employment in family-wage jobs. (Remediation is expensive; illiteracy and drop outs even more so.) Investment in pre-school for kids in need is not part of basic education, but both the House and Senate support expanding the state’s preschool program, as does Washington State PTA.

  • Pay for a full 6 periods in middle and high school. Five periods and 10th-grade expectations don’t cut it. Give ALL children access to a flexible high school pathway that lets them take multiple years of math, science, and arts, as well as the traditional English; and that has room for social studies and foreign language, career and technical education and, yes, even P.E. Kids (especially those affected by the achievement gaps) need a high school experience that by default prepares them to step into a two-year or four-year college or technical training program, and that allows them to swap certain classes and create their own path when they have something else in mind. Graduating only to face remediation in community college is expensive and discouraging. Job expectations have changed, and many families do not understand what courses their children should be taking to transition into adulthood. It’s time we opt kids in and stop putting up barriers.

  • Cover costs for materials, supplies and operating costs. These should not fall to local PTAs to pick up.

  • Cover the transportation costs to get kids to school. (Ideally this would include funds to ensure safe biking and walking routes, with consistent signage, but that remains a separate challenge.)

  • Provide adequate funds for English language learners to transition in; adequate funds to support kids who need extra learning assistance; additional funds for guidance counselors in middle and high school to help with career planning, and funds for parent engagement coordinators in elementary school to ensure strong partnerships throughout the K-12 years. (Research shows effective family engagement is worth $1000 per year, per student. See our family engagement priority for more information.)

  • Adjust salary schedules to better reflect market costs, and stop to the diversion of funds. Schools shouldn’t have to choose between a counselor and a principal, between maintenance and kindergarten.


Context for updating tax preferences

Washington State is 36th in the nation in overall obligation of state and local taxes; near the bottom in funding public schools. We have some of the most crowded classrooms in the nation -- not because we plan for higher class sizes, but because the money doesn't go as far as the state thought it would. Salary allocations don’t reflect the market rate in our urban areas and other allocations don’t cover actual costs. When the state first heard the McCleary lawsuit in 2008, maintenance and supplies were underfunded by $500 million a year. State allocations only funded 3 out of 4 teachers.

And yet, since 1995, the legislature has created 277 new tax exemptions, credits, or preferential rates worth about $3.6 billion.

We have over 600 tax exemptions worth tens of billions of dollars, with no provisions for financial oversight, technical analysis or objective review. This is in contrast with line by line review of our budget spending and calls for reform in many areas of state government.

These tax exemptions were passed with a simple majority vote (50 percent, plus one); but to repeal them required a two-thirds super majority vote, until just recently when the state supreme court ruled that requirement unconstitutional.

The 2013-15 House budget proposal would close or reform 15 tax exemptions, credits or preferential rates – just 2 percent of 600-plus tax exemptions. The $500 million saved would go into early learning, K-12 and higher education. In all, the House invests an additional $1.9 billion into K-12 education overall; $1.3 billion of that goes into the legally defined program of basic education. (Funding for prefessional development and new policy bills are not part of basic education, though they improve opportunity for students.)

The Senate budget invests an additional $1 billion into K-12 (about $700 million of that to the program of basic education) keeps all tax exemptions and creates additional ones, even though K-12 remains underfunded and the state has been ordered by the court to significantly increase funding.

Fully implementing basic education as outlined in HB 2261 is estimated to cost an additional $3.5 billion and needs to be implemented by 2018. The House budget proposal takes a more significant step forward.

Washington State PTA supports legislation or policies that raise state revenue to adequately fund K-12 education and child-related programs. Revenue increases should be fair, equitable and ample. Options we support include but are not limited to closing tax loopholes. Substantial cuts, more than $10 billion, have already been made to state services over the past 3 years. Fewer children are receiving health, child care and other services, while home-care hours have been cut for vulnerable seniors and the disabled. Washington State PTA cannot support further cuts to services that our families rely on.

Members are encouraged to contact their legislators.
We have set up an action alert, or you can compose your own message.

Talking points

In the K-12 system funded before reforms in 2009 and 2010, state learning standards and grade level expectations ended at 10th grade. We’ve since raised the bar and made plans to test kids for career and college readiness, but we have failed to make sure the classes teens need to take are actually available to them.
This state has chosen – repeatedly – to forgo investing in high school and to delay graduation requirements that align with career and college expectations. The consequences? Kids who most need a leg up are given the least opportunity.

In PTA, we work to make every child’s potential his or her reality, and that means offering rigorous, enriching learning through high school graduation. It means paying for the additional instructional time needed to cover a full 6 periods, plus a little buffer room in case they need a study skills class or remediation in math, science or another core subject. We support the investments in middle and high school included in the governor’s and House budget proposals, as well as the investments in preschool and K-3 needed to give all learners a solid foundation.
Costs to implement these changes will be significant and the state needs a stable funding source.
The state is under a court order to substantially increase funding for the education of our children. The court has called out 2009’s House Bill 2261 as promising reform that if fully implemented would satisfy the court. That framework is based on research, with a built-in mechanism to review and adjust as necessary.

HB 2261 was adopted with strong bipartisan support. It requires significant investment and stable revenue, as well as a schedule to phase in full funding. The House budget and revenue approach accomplishes this, and does so while also affirming the importance of kids’ health and safety, as well as supports and infrastructure that make our communities strong.

Washington State PTA supports funding education first, but that does not mean we support funding only education, or funding K-12 at the expense of other necessary programs. To our association Fund Education First means getting a handle on the true costs of K-12, finding a revenue source to pay for all that the state needs to do, and setting up a schedule to phase in full funding of HB 2261 and HB 2776, as well as funding to support the reforms initiated in 2010’s SB 6696.

Great schools need stable, sustainable revenue.

Washington State is 36th in the nation in overall obligation of state and local taxes; near the bottom in funding public schools. We have some of the most crowded classrooms in the nation -- not because we plan for higher class sizes, but because salary allocations don’t reflect the market rate in our urban areas and other allocations don’t cover actual costs. When the state first heard the McCleary lawsuit in 2008, maintenance and supplies were underfunded by $500 million a year.

And yet, since 1995, the legislature has created 277 new tax exemptions, credits, or preferential rates worth about $3.6 billion.

We have over 600 tax exemptions worth tens of billions of dollars, with no provisions for financial oversight, technical analysis or objective review. This is in contrast with line by line review of our budget spending and calls for reform in many areas of state government.
Fund Education First includes funding our state's paramount duty before granting additional tax breaks. Education should not defined by what is left over. Our constitution makes education paramount.
-- Ramona Hattendorf, government relations coordinator, Washington State PTA

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