Reform acts in best interest of students

It’s been a tough year for teachers. Anyone who thought the Democrat-controlled state Legislature was in the pocket of the teachers’ union need only look at the results of the legislative session to be convinced otherwise.

Teachers saw the suspension of two of their initiatives. Lawmakers refused to fund Initiative 732, which provides annual cost-of-living increase for teachers and Initiative 728, which provided additional teaching positions in order to reduce the number of students in each classroom.

But perhaps the biggest blow to the Washington Education Association was the passage of House Bill 2261, a sweeping overhaul of the state’s K-12 education system. The union strongly opposed the measure, which lays out a 10-year plan to create and pay for quality schools in The Evergreen State.

The union’s loss is the public’s gain.

While the legislation lacks a solid funding source, it puts the governor, the superintendent of public instruction and the Legislature on track to fully fund basic education and thus reduce school districts’ reliance on special levy dollars. Special levies should be used for add-on programs such as improved technology, and should not pay for basics such as transportation and classroom instruction.

Rep. Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, said it best: “The current system, after a generation of cut-and-paste fixes, is imploding.”

Parents are upset. Taxpayers are tired of paying more for less. And a pending lawsuit threatens to force lawmakers to make K-12 education — as the constitution dictates — the “paramount duty” of the state.

Rather than let the courts dictate education policy in this state, a bipartisan group of lawmakers opted to chart a new course for K-12 education — and bulldoze the teachers’ union in the process.

Union president Mary Lindquist blasted lawmakers for their votes in the Senate (26-23) and the House (67-31) in support of HB 2261.

“The Legislature passed HB 2261 at a time we should be protecting our commitment to quality public schools, which are essential to our state’s economy and our students’ futures,” Lindquist said. “This bill exacerbates the school funding crisis because it actually loosens basic education funding requirements. The legislators who voted for HB 2261 chose to ignore the perspective and wisdom of the professional educators in the classroom. That lack of respect has left many education employees feeling that they are being blamed for the problems caused by years of inadequate state funding for our schools.

“But let’s be clear,” Lindquist said, “education employees are not responsible for the Legislature’s failure to fund the public education our students need and deserve.”

Union leaders have offered little beyond repeated requests for additional money. The mantra for the union has been, “Give us more money and we’ll fix the problem. We’re the professionals.”

Parents are tired of the rhetoric and the poor outcomes. The PTA and a broad cross section of leaders came together and launched an impressive lobbying effort that pushed HB 2261 to the governor’s desk for her signature into law.

The glaring hole in the legislation is its lack of funding. While setting high performance goals and putting model school standards into place, the legislation does not identify a source of revenue.

The state already spends about $15 billion on K-12 education in each two-year budget cycle — about 40 percent of the state’s general fund budget. That renders the basic education finance reform bill a huge unfunded promise — a promise to spend perhaps another $2 billion every two-year budget cycle to better educate students.

Among other things, the bill redefines what constitutes basic education — a definition that hasn’t been changed since 1979.

It will likely lead to longer school days and the option of more credits for high school students, all-day kindergarten, a new system for sending money to schools around the state, and performance standards for teachers.

Waiting another year or 10 years, as some suggested, is simply not fair to this state’s 1 million school children. House Bill 2261 is the right solution at the right time.