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home : opinion : columnists October 23, 2016

4/24/2013 1:40:00 PM
No smoke screens please
By Steve McKenna

 Mr. Forhan, I recently read the article on the current debate on school funding and grading in several of your papers in our region. I appreciated the consistency of the article while providing the flexibility to interview the Superintendents in various communities. Thank you for the discussion and permit me to add a few details to provide some additional perspective. As a district that received good scores, I feel compelled to respond on behalf of others because some may view their response as defensive.

You are correct, funding of basic education is in the Washington State Constitution, in fact, it states it is the "paramount duty" of the State. The Supreme Court has ruled not just once, but twice, that the state has failed to "amply" fund basic education.

In your article you were correct when you stated that the court "provided no guidance as to what actually constitutes basic education." However, this is because the guidance had been previously decided by state legislature in the reform and funding law, ESHB 2261, detailing the funding of "basic" education by 2018. During the trial, the state assured the Court that this law would be fully funded by 2018. However, funding has actually decreased since 2009.

The Constitution of Washington State confers on children a positive constitutional right to amply fund education. The debate is not what to fund or how much as this has been previously decided by legislature. The tough work we all face is how? Even though Washington is performing in the top third of states in the country, we rank in the bottom third for funding our schools.

Now is not the time to circle the wagons and throw up smoke screens as to imply if schools are deserving of funding. The A-F school grading debate is one such example. The Washington State Achievement Index is designed and intended to meaningfully differentiate among schools. It is a snapshot of a school's performance based on statewide assessments. We can compare how a school performs in reading, writing, math, science, and graduation rates. The achievement index is a joint project between the State Board of Education and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. It's designed to take complicated data and provide a meaningful, easy to understand comparison of a school's performance. Each subject area is ranked as follows: Exemplary, Very Good, Good, Fair, Struggling. Now the legislature wants to dummy these down to an A-F ranking to make it "easier" for people to understand. I don't know about you, but when I read a school has been ranked as "Good", I'm offended to think someone in the legislature needs to give it a "C" grade to help me understand. Really? Let me throw a "smoke screen" idea back to legislature that may be helpful if the goal is to waste time and not address the true challenges our state faces. Give the fourth grade test to every state Legislator and publish the results with an A-F ranking. In order not to embarrass individual Legislators we'll compare the results of the House with that of the Senate.

We all know that the effects of poverty impacts schools. Recently, one of the local, most challenged by poverty districts was one of three districts in the county being considered for a Presidential visit because of the improvements they had made to successfully graduate students and successfully get them in to the workforce or college. Did their score accurately reflect the overall success they are having? Did the score reflect the huge progress these hard working professionals have made. Did this score entice professionals to take on the highest need students or run to the schools with the highest scores?

Let's quit wasting time and work together for solutions for our kids rather than throwing up smoke screens. 

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