Opinion Columns & Blogs

Students belong at the center of school funding questions

Education funding is the talk of the town these days, especially in Olympia during legislative session.

As superintendent for North Thurston Public Schools with a background in banking and public utilities, I am truly invested in both quality education and strong fiscal management. When leaders ask my opinion regarding state funding challenges, my answer often surprises people. It’s not about taxes, or levies or court decisions. It’s not about lobbyists, politicians, or unions. It’s simply about students, and how all of us – parents, communities, schools, and policymakers – can do better to serve them.

Every decision we make in public education should be student-centered. When I discuss district decisions and initiatives, I always challenge myself and my staff to ask the primary question, “Is it good for kids?” If the answer is “yes,” we usually find a way to make it happen as a community.

Our staff has taken pay cuts; we’ve implemented operational efficiencies across the district; our community rallied behind a $175 million bond; and our education foundation provides grants and scholarships. We do what it takes – together!

Case in point. I have always been a proponent of year-round schools. While a statewide effort to close learning gaps would benefit more students, we decided we couldn’t afford to wait. This summer our district will offer credit retrieval, free algebra readiness and a new program for struggling third-grade readers. We hope to serve about 1,000 students this year and expand in the future.

Of course, education is about more than academics. In our district we have worked diligently over the last five years to focus on the “whole child” and compassion, including district-wide investments in counseling, positive behavior intervention support (PBIS), the arts, fitness, and mentoring. The results? Graduation rates are up 7 percent and overall office discipline referrals K-12 have dropped by at least 40 percent, leaving more time for teaching and learning!

So how does this all connect to the Legislature? I often remind parents, “We only have your students for six hours a day.” How can we as a community keep our students safe and engaged outside of school? Are we doing enough to ensure struggling families get the support they need to help their children become good citizens? I support full funding for basic education but at the same time believe we must not decrease our capacity to serve children by cutting other critical community services, such as housing, food, mental health and child care.

We need to remove hurdles for kids, not set up road blocks. We need to build more schools, not prisons (especially if you add all-day kindergarten and lower class sizes). Only nine states spend a lower percentage of their taxable resources on education. Washington ranks 39th on per pupil spending, earning a C-minus grade for school finance from Education Week. That’s not student-centered – that’s injustice.

There are tough decisions ahead of us that will test our values and vision for our future, but I am confident that if we work together we can find solutions that keep students – not adults – at the center of all we do!