Guest Opinions

School budget reform needed immediately

Textbooks? Computers? Teachers? Librarians? School counselors? Safety officers?

Today's schools should not have to choose between basic needs, yet that is exactly what is happening as school administrators make plans to cut their budgets.

Educators, parents and students across Washington all have their own personal stories about the challenges facing our public schools.

They tell us we need to fix how we pay for education. The education finance system is outdated. It was designed before the invention of the personal computer and by anyone's standards, it's broken.

Under our state constitution, the Legislature has "the paramount duty to make ample provision for the education of all children," and yet the state does not pay for the full cost of anything, whether it is a teacher, a principal or a utility bill.

That's why all the school districts in the Mid-Columbia have to run large levies to meet the basic education requirements that the state is not funding.

This year could be a turning point for the future of our state's public schools. Parents who've been involved for years in helping their local schools realize fixing our education system is not just about adequate funding.

Besides more money, they want reforms so when our national and state economies recover, we will have a system that works better to increase academic achievement for all of our students.

For the past six weeks, the education community was caught up in a vigorous and often contentious debate about two pairs of education reform bills before state lawmakers.

Our education leaders in Olympia decided it was best to hit the "reset button" and start over. They have introduced Senate Bill 6048 and House Bill 2261, which declare the Legislature's intent to revise the definition of basic education and develop a plan to fully fund it.

These bills would wipe the chalkboard clean. They were intentionally written without specific details because the bills' sponsors want our help in developing legislation we can all agree on.

As parents, educators and students, our focus for the next two months should be pressuring the state Legislature to remain committed to fixing our education system.

Often, we talk about adult issues in education. The only way we will get improvements in the system is if we talk about how changes will affect kids and remember that they are the top priority.

Join us in supporting these changes to get our kids ready life:

w Every child should graduate high school ready for college or university, career or technical education, apprenticeship or work.

To achieve this for kids, we should redefine basic education to include the Washington State Board of Education's CORE 24 high school graduation requirements.

This will ensure kids take more math, science and art classes so they will be ready to pursue their dreams after high school.

By including stronger graduation requirements in basic education, the state would be required to pay for a longer school day and other needed investments.

w Every child should be able to read by third grade. To achieve this for kids, we should capitalize on studies that show investing in early learning can change the trajectory of a child's life by providing early learning opportunities to better prepare them for kindergarten.

w Every child should have an excellent teacher in the classroom. To encourage more people, especially diverse candidates, to consider the teaching profession, we need to invest in more support and mentoring for beginning teachers.

We also need a new compensation system for the next generation of teachers based on responsibilities and demonstrated skills in the classroom.

Our educators and school leaders are doing their best with the resources they have been given. As a result, Washington's students are making steady progress. Reading and writing WASL scores have improved, and we're outperforming the national average on the SAT, NAEP and AP exams.

Just think how many more lives could be turned around if we paired new education money with the kinds of reforms that common sense and research tell us will make the most difference for kids.

We are determined, more than ever, to move education reform forward. But change is difficult and some days it feels like we are pushing a boulder uphill.

We need your help to reach the top of the mountain - join the movement at www.educationvoters.org.

With your help, we'll be able to change the outcome of children's lives across our state by providing the education they deserve to succeed in life.

* Karen Albers is president of the Hanford Secondary Parent, Teacher and Student Association. Kelly Munn is statewide field director for the League of Education Voters.

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