Dear Friends and Neighbors,
It's that special time of year again – when students are anxious, parents are sentimental and teachers are excited to be to back in the classroom. It's always fun to see the pictures of children on their first day of school, hear parents talk about how they can't believe how old their babies are now, and feel the optimism of teachers as another school year begins. Having visited several classrooms in our district, I've witnessed this optimism firsthand. I look forward to visiting more classrooms next month.
I'm a father of three. My wife and I have always believed that education starts at home with parents. This includes choices for families. Families should have options within our education system – including public schools, charter schools, private schools, homeschooling, and an Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) which includes off-campus academic instruction. Children learn in different ways, and our education system needs to be flexible enough to meet these needs.
K-12 education reforms passed this year
As the school year begins, it's a good time to reflect on the results for K-12 education in the 2013 legislative sessions. For example, did you know the Legislature dedicated $15.1 billion to K-12 education – up from $13.6 billion in the last two-year operating budget? However, it wasn't just about spending more on our education system – it was also about changing the system. For example, state lawmakers passed meaningful reforms aimed at improving student outcomes, supporting teachers and helping struggling schools. Below are the reform bills, in addition to other education-related legislation, that passed this year:
- Senate Bill 5946 updates our K-12 education system to improve student outcomes and support teachers. The legislation addresses early student literacy intervention, reengagement options for students struggling with behavior issues and mentoring programs to ensure every teacher is prepared for success.
- Senate Bill 5243 encourages school districts to adopt a policy to automatically enroll a student who meets the standard on the high school state assessments or the Preliminary SAT in the next most rigorous advanced course in that subject. The objective is for students to enroll in dual-credit courses.
- Senate Bill 5329 puts in place protocols for accurately identifying struggling schools and provides funding to implement state and local intervention models.
- House Bill 1144 outlines standards for educational interpreters. The idea for this legislation came from Harley Applin – a Snohomish High School student.
- House Bill 1178 authorizes alternative assessments of basic skills for teacher certification.
- House Bill 1336 increases the capacity of school districts to recognize and respond to troubled youth.
- Senate Bill 5197 requires school districts to work with local law enforcement to develop an emergency response system to expedite the response and arrival of law enforcement. The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction must allocate grants on a competitive basis, if funds are appropriated, for districts to implement emergency response systems.
How new funding for K-12 education is being spent
Of the $15.1 billion for K-12 education in the operating budget, approximately $1 billion were McCleary-related enhancements. Here is a breakdown of some of that funding:
- $374 million for materials, supplies and operating costs.
- $143 million for the Learning Assistance Program.
- $132 million for pupil transportation.
- $104 million for K-1 class-size reduction.
- $97 million for increased instructional hours grades 7-12.
- $90 million for full-day kindergarten, beginning with at-risk student populations (Learn more here).
- $24 million for counselors and parent coordinators.
- $19 million for bilingual education.
- $15 million for the Teacher-Principal Evaluation Program.
- $10 million for struggling schools.
Our state constitution and Supreme Court
The framers of our state constitution made it clear that public education is the state's most important responsibility. Section 1, Article IX of our state constitution reads: “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.” This is a mandate that I – and every state lawmaker should – take seriously. The importance of public education is also reflected in the operating budget, with K-12 education representing the largest segment of state spending.
Our state Supreme Court also believes strongly in this section of our state constitution. In its January 2012 McCleary decision, our state Supreme Court said the Legislature had not complied with its constitutional duty to make ample provision for the education of all children. The court also said that it was not solely about putting more money into our K-12 education system, but also about enacting necessary reforms, and that it would retain jurisdiction over the case to monitor progress.
Education funding and reform will continue to be major issues in the Legislature – as they should be. I look forward to providing you more updates in the future.
In your service,