The state’s public school financing system is a mess.
When lawmakers convene for the coming session in January, they will have to figure out how to fully fund basic education — a requirement of the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary decision.
Since last summer, they have been facing a $100,000-a-day sanction for failing to come up with an adequate school funding plan.
Now, add to the mix another valid request — training for paraeducators.
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Senate Bill 5179 will be making its way through the legislative process, and conceptually it is easy to support. Financially, it’s tough.
Paraeducators are a huge help to schools and can make a tremendous difference in the lives of children.
Officials with the Public School Employees of Washington, the union supporting the bill, told the Tri-City Herald Editorial Board that they would like to see 50 percent of the state allocation go toward paraeducator training.
The money — designated for school districts’ materials, supplies and operating costs, or MSOC — is not a budget that has much to spare. If that is truly part of the funding plan for this effort, we suggest backers find some other way.
We wholeheartedly support the work paraeducators do and understand the need for training, but raiding the MSOC fund is not the way to go about paying for it.
With the current teacher shortage, trained paraeducators could perhaps help alleviate a labor gap in some school districts. With that in mind, we would encourage state legislators to consider how to include the goals of SB 5179 as they pursue a comprehensive school funding plan.
According to PSE union officials, children who are struggling the most in school receive over half of their instruction time with a paraeducator, which is a telling indicator of just how crucial their work is.
There are an estimated 25,000 paraeducators in the state, giving extra attention to students who don’t speak English, who struggle to learn and who are at risk of dropping out of high school. They often work with special education students and other children who need a small group or a one-on-one learning approach if they are going to succeed.
Yet paraeducators typically learn on the job. Many of them are school volunteers who find they have a knack for working with children, and are hired to help.
But no outside training is typically provided or required. Clearly, there’s a need to ensure that the children who have the most difficult time in school are being served by people who are highly qualified.
That’s not to say our current paraeducators do not measure up. Most are very caring and devoted, and do a great job. But think how much better they would be if they had some outside guidance.
Earlier this year, a version of this legislation made it through the Senate, but not the House. Part of the challenge was figuring out where the money would come from to pay for the program, and how to meet the possibility of demands for higher pay once paraeducators complete their licensing requirements.
Those are details that need to be hashed out and we hope lawmakers can find a way — without using 50 percent of the MSOC money.