By Nick Brossoit
Will this year’s Legislature step up and start funding the additional resources our public schools need to provide all Washington students the education they need to compete in today’s world? Or, will we hear more excuses about how hard it is for legislators to allocate state resources to do this work, or make resources “conditional” on other policy initiatives?
The elected officials we send to Olympia to do “our” work need to be held accountable for how they meet this challenge. The one million students, who will either benefit from or be victim of our Legislature, need us as citizens to make this our business. This is my 19th year as a public school superintendent in the state of Washington; it is my 29th year in public education – all here in Washington where I have lived my entire life. I am writing to share information with you and on behalf of all students in public schools to request your help, right now in this legislative session. Thank you for the time you take to read this letter; and moreover, thanks for your personal action as a result.
As many of you may know, the state’s own studies have been reporting for many years that the legislature consistently underfunds our state’s public schools. This has also been proven in court on a number of occasions. It has been frequently noted by many elected officials. And it has been a tragic reality experienced by far too many students, parents, staff and teachers in our state’s public schools. Years of state funding cuts to public education have created a situation that has schools in a survival mode and forced to operate at levels less than what we as citizens expect, and less than our state’s students today need and deserve.
It may be constructive to first share just one local example of what public school districts have survived in terms of state funding reductions in recent years, and how easily this can be addressed. Since 2009, the Edmonds School District has experienced approximately $55 million in state funding reductions. As a result, we have had to cut, eliminate, or reduce approximately $40 million in programs, services, and staffing levels. This has a direct, adverse impact on student learning. Thankfully, our community voted in August 2010 to increase the local school levy, which is the only thing keeping us from having to make even deeper cuts. If the Legislature fully funded even just the very basics in public schools, it would free up millions of local dollars currently used to subsidize these basic state responsibilities. This would free resources we could direct to support struggling learners and improve learning conditions for all students. If the Legislature fully funded SB 2776 and HB 2261, it would significantly help close the financial gap, as resources are currently insufficient to address the opportunity gap, the basis of the achievement gap in our state’s public schools.
As recent at this past December, the Supreme Court of the state of Washington sternly directed this current Legislature to comply with the Court’s orders by making a significant increase in K-12 public school funding starting with the 2013-14 school year and to steadily increase this to be fully funded and completed no later than 2018. There are some thoughtful lawmakers who are ready and committed to making this happen, this session. They understand the needs; they will follow the Court order; and to better support students, they want to make a real and meaningful down payment towards the 2018 deadline.
However, there is another group of lawmakers this session who want to hold hostage any significant increases in public schools funding until their pet policy ideas are approved. I am not asserting that they are intending to harm students, schools or public education. Still, the policy ideas they are advancing are misguided and simplistic solutions proposed to address very complex socio-economic, mobility, student learning and schooling related issues. These policy ideas won’t improve public schools, and would only create more public confusion by masking the real issues and solutions for schools with political quick fixes.
In the context of the past few years of drastic state funding cuts to public schools, making increased funding conditional upon new or misguided policy changes — instead of respecting, honoring, and addressing the already unfunded and underfunded areas in K-12 education — is not in anyone’s best interests, certainly not the students in our state. If the real “agenda” is to help students and schools in our state, then making significant increases in state funding to fill the significant funding shortfalls already identified by the state’s own reports and the Supreme Court orders is the only honest and honorable action. Students in our schools don’t need any more legislative shenanigans or IOU’s!
I have flown on an airplane, but would not profess to be an expert on the design and operations of air travel. I have had surgery, but would not profess to be an expert on the design and operations of hospitals. I have driven across bridges, but would not profess to be an expert on the design and operations of roadways. How is it then that some state lawmakers who may have only attended public school and have no experience or professional training in the design and operations of public education — especially in today’s schools — place themselves in a position to create policies that impact schools in isolation from those with the proper training and proven success? Without the insight and understanding of experienced and trained experts in public education we are not going to get good policy. Without sufficient state resources to provide the capacity schools need to do what the public expects, we are not going to get the schools we want or the education our kids deserve.
Please use every social media distribution method you have available and urge everyone who cares about students in public schools to contact our state representatives and senators in the next five days. Tell them to obey our state’s Supreme Court orders to fully fund our public schools. Tell them to finally do what one million school aged students in our state need and deserve — a public school system that is funded as necessary to educate students to the high levels and high expectations that we have for them. Thank you for your help!
Nick Brossoit is serving in his ninth year as superintendent of the Edmonds School District. He earned his doctorate in educational leadership from Seattle University.