Legislature must follow WSAC education ‘road map’

The OlympianJanuary 16, 2014 

Last week’s Supreme Court order sent state lawmakers scrambling to develop a complete plan before April 30 detailing how they will meet the K-12 funding mandate in the McCleary decision.

That’s a tall order. But even so, lawmakers must expand the education conversation this year beyond the funding problem. They also urgently need to address how the extra dollars they provide will increase educational attainment.

Fortunately, the Legislature has a new tool that should make their task easier.

As directed by the Legislature, the Washington Student Achievement Council has completed a 10-year plan to align the state’s education priorities from early learning through K-12 and culminating in post-secondary degrees or certificates. The WSAC’s “road map” sets statewide education goals for the first time.

Lawmakers should adopt these 2023 goals and support legislation to implement the council’s 10-year road map.

For too long, the state’s education system has operated without long-term, integrated planning. Recent attempts at piece-meal education reforms — some of them cookie-cutter bills copied from national reform organizations — have perpetuated our fragmented and siloed approach to student learning.

We hope lawmakers abandon that flavor-of-the-day approach and embrace the WSAC’s comprehensive plan.

The council’s two main goals are ambitious.

They want all adults in Washington, ages 25 to 44, to have a high school diploma or equivalent. At present, 89 percent of the target population is already there. Getting to 100 percent requires tackling the most difficult last segment, including Latinos, English language learners and low-income students of all races.

By 2023, the council wants at least 70 percent of Washington adults to have a postsecondary credential. Slightly less than half of the state’s adults have a degree or certificate today.

The council has outlined 12 strategies to attain these two goals, which stakeholder workgroups will turn into detailed action plans by next fall.

In the meantime, lawmakers can start down the council’s road by committing $12 million to fully fund the College Bound Scholarship program to serve all 8,000 eligible students over the next two years.

The council is also asking the Legislature for another $16 million to increase the number of students served by the State Need Grant program. More than 32,000 students in the system today qualify for need grants but don’t receive any support.

Those appropriations could help satisfy the Supreme Court’s urging to increase K-12 funding in the supplemental budget. WSAC Executive Director Gene Sharratt said, “We appreciate the court’s affirmation that the state continues to be committed to full funding and implementation of the McCleary decision.”

Part of the council’s mission is to align the system with workforce needs, something lawmakers have already started as part of the Boeing deal to keep 777X production in Puget Sound. They promised additional funding to create 1,000 student FTEs in aerospace skill development programs at the state’s community and technical colleges.

That’s critical because Washington ranks first in the nation for jobs that require postsecondary credentials, but we currently spend the second least per higher education student among the 50 states.

The WASC has provided state lawmakers with bold goals and a thoughtful plan to achieve them. It proves, if nothing else, that we’re getting better at talking about an education system aligned with the workforce and all phases of student development.

Now it’s up to state lawmakers to follow the plan.

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