Education

Only 77.2% of our students graduate high school on time. Of those who do graduate, nearly 40% need remedial courses before starting college. And businesses report that a significant number are not adequately prepared to enter the workforce. Families need a quality, cost efficient education system so their children will grow up with every opportunity for success. I am passionate about prioritizing education funding and providing excellent teachers with the resources and structure they need to succeed.

Our current situation: The Washington State Constitution states, "It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders . . . ." But, with the exception of the current biennium, in recent years it has been common for the legislature to have budgets that fund everything else and then insist that a tax increase was required for education.

My solution: I co-sponsored legislation to Fund Education First as a separate budget, before any other expenditures are considered. That way we won't have the excuse that has been used over the past several years that they would have liked to spend more on education, but they just ran out of money. If this bill was allowed a vote and passed, those who want a tax increase would have to argue it is necessary for some lesser priority, because education would already be paid for.

Additionally, with the formation of the Senate Majority Coalition for the 2013 - 2014 legislative term, $1 billion more was actually put toward education which had only been talked about for many years. This is what can happen when all four caucuses are involved in the budget negotiations, as opposed to the one party control we have had for decades.

Our current situation: Although 50% of the state's discretionary budget goes into education, the McCleary Supreme Court decision found that the state is not adequately funding education and needs to fully fund basic education, rather than the current system where a significant portion is funded by local levies, which may or may not be passed.

My solution: I support a “levy swap” where the state collects more money in property tax to fund education, but the amount collected by local levies is reduced by the same amount – the net additional cost to the taxpayers being zero. From this point we can properly evaluate how much additional state funding is necessary to fully fund education.

Our current situation: We spend about $12,500 per student per year on education, the highest in state history. That's a quarter of a million dollars for a classroom of 25. Of that sum, the average teacher salary is $53,000 from the state and an additional $12,000 in supplemental pay, for a total of $65,000. We should be able to provide the rest of the necessities of a quality education in each classroom with the remaining $185,000 per year. If I gave my daughter, who taught math at Auburn High School, that sum of money, I’m sure she would turn out well-educated students each year.

However, one third of public education funding is spent on administration. The rigid, top-heavy and expensive control of our education system prevents the money making its way down to the actual classroom level, where decisions can be made by our competent educators, rather than dictated from the upper, far-removed levels of our education system administration. So often I have heard principles say that they could get much better results if they were allowed more control over their budgets.

My solution: We can do with a lot less administration and those associated costs and restrictions. We need to allow schools more exemptions from state policies and trust our educators to use the money wisely at their local level. With the increased freedom, we’ll need accountability measures to make sure they are achieving the results.

Our current situation: Our state has thrived due to innovative technology being developed here. And you’ll often hear government officials touting innovations in our education system. However, too often I hear educators who are achieving great results lament that they could do even better if they were given more freedom to innovate in their classrooms and schools.

My solution: In my first term in the legislature, it was clear that its political makeup would not allow passage of charter school legislation. However, I was able to get my Innovation Schools bill passed which sought to enable teachers and parents at the local level to come up with innovative solutions that match the needs of their children whom they know the best. I also led the successful effort to authorize private online schools in Washington. Just as more choice in the marketplace leads to lower prices and better products, more choice in education leads to better schools.

Our current situation: In 2008, when multi-million dollar grants were offered to seven states to fund Advanced Placement programs in math and science, Washington was the only state to decline the $13.2 million, because Washington law so rigidly insists that teachers' pay must only be negotiated by the WEA. Teachers cannot be rewarded for extra work, and students won't have the extra opportunities that the grant would allow. How can we expect to improve our education system when we can't even accept free money to make improvements?

My solution: The free market, capitalistic system that made this country the greatest on earth has proven that human beings will work harder and achieve more when they see that they are able to earn rewards for their efforts. When the teachers at Pateros Elementary School near Wenatchee showed that a school with low income families and large populations of minority students can achieve great results, their only reward was the satisfaction in a job well done. I support rewarding teachers and schools for their efforts, encouraging other schools to try creative ways to improve their students' performance.

Our current situation: Many have said we need to reduce class sizes in order for teachers to adequately educate our children. But in fact, when one party controlled both the House and Senate, in 2011 we retroactively cut funding for K-3 class size reductions.

My solution: It should be noted that class sizes peaked about 1940 and have been steadily decreasing since then. The problem is that we have made teachers’ jobs much more difficult. As opposed to the homogeneous classes of decades past, our classes now have significant numbers of students who do not speak English or are from very difficult home life situations. While class size reduction is important and is part of the solution, we need to work toward solving these other detrimental factors.

When the Senate Majority coalition was formed, we added funding for K-3 class size reduction. And because of the resultant need for additional classroom space, I co-sponsored legislation to direct lottery proceeds to new classroom construction.