Charter public schools score well in new U.S. News “Best High Schools National Rankings”

Charter public schools across the country continue to demonstrate their effectiveness in boosting student achievement. From U.S. News and World Report:

Charter schools and magnet schools account for nine of the top 10 public high schools in the country, according to the 2017 U.S. News Best High Schools National Rankings, and represent 60 percent of the top 100 schools in the ranking – that’s despite representing a combined 16 percent of the 6,000 medal-winning schools.

As the magazine points out, support for these alternatives to traditional public schools is growing.

Charter and magnet schools have historically done well in the rankings because of the emphasis they place on college readiness and college-level courses – one part of U.S. News’ methodology. But their prominence in the rankings comes as the sectors are booming. Charter schools, in particular, have seen an explosion in growth over the past decade – a 100 percent increase in the number of students enrolled since the 2007-2008 school year.

 Nearly 2.7 million students were enrolled in charter schools during the 2014-2015 school year, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. The 6,600-school sector is present in all but six states that don’t have charter school laws on the books.
The growth is unsurprising.

“Charter schools continue to be one of the most popular reform strategies there is,” says Michael Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education policy think-tanks that supports the expansion of charter schools. 

“It has this built-in positive which is it has created a powerful political bloc of parents who like their charter schools and will defend them if they are threatened, and that’s something new in education reform,” he says. “It’s not just a bunch of policy wonks pushing them. That makes it something that’s quite sustainable politically, and I think we’ll continue to see it grow.”

We saw that support in Washington state when the schools were challenged. Here are some great stories about what charter public schools mean to families, posted on the website of the Washington State Charter Schools Association website.

 About the rankings,

The U.S News rankings assesses more than 22,000 eligible high schools, a list that’s whittled down to about 6,000 medal-winning schools by taking into account a variety of factors, such as graduation rates, performance on state assessments and student participation in and performance on Advanced Placement tests. 

Here’s the list of the top 10 high schools in Washington, according to U.S. News. (Full list here.)


New study points the way to a better understanding of the possibly-overstated national teacher shortage

Responding to a shortage of classroom teachers begins with understanding what’s behind it and, possibly, being prepared to alter the diagnosis of the problem. That’s the lesson to be drawn from some new and important research. In the Seattle Times, Neal Morton reports,

The New York TimesThe Washington PostNational Public Radio and, yes, The Seattle Times have all contributed to a growing perception that there just aren’t enough teachers to do the job. And since 2011, mentions of the phrase “teacher shortage” in U.S. news coverage spiked more than 1,300 percent to nearly 4,000 times last year, according to a new report by Dan Goldhaber, director of the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington.

…Goldhaber and co-author Thomas Dee, of Stanford University, however, say their research suggests the headlines obscure the real problem. They dispute the notion that there’s a nationwide teacher shortage. Instead, they say, their research suggests a more persistent and acute shortage of teachers in certain subjects and schools.

They find shortages in some STEM programs, special education and schools with a large proportion of families living in poverty.

Goldhaber isn’t exactly sure why some teaching positions remain so hard to fill. In Washington state, his previous research found a high turnover rate among special-education teachers, whereas math and science vacancies don’t attract enough well-trained candidates.

Morton links to their research (brief, full report).

In their Hamilton Project Policy Brief, the researchers write,

Addressing school- and subject-specific teacher shortages will likely require adjustments to teacher compensation. The authors note evidence suggesting a moderate level of teacher responsiveness to compensation, however, suggesting it would be necessary to offer substantial monetary incentives to induce teachers to take positions in hard-to-staff schools or in high-need subjects. In particular, motivating teachers to move from one school to another can be costly…

Understanding labor markets is important, they note, offering a caveat.

However, the authors also cite evidence that state-speci c licensing requirements, seniority rules, and the lack of portability for teachers’ de ned-bene t pensions render local teacher labor markets more disconnected from each other than they would otherwise be. The interstate mobility of teachers, even those residing near state borders, is very low, making it more difficult to address teacher shortages that are specific to particular geographic areas.

They offer specific recommendations to policymakers. We commend the report to your attention. As Morton reports,

The authors argue that school districts could use financial incentives to attract and keep more teachers in high-need subjects and hard-to-staff schools. But that’s not likely to happen in a state like Washington, where virtually all districts adhere to the same statewide teacher-salary schedule.

“It is not surprising in a place with a strong teachers union that you have relatively little differentiation” in pay, Goldhaber said. “It undermines the purpose of the union, which is to bargain on behalf of all members.”

Further, from the Times story,

The report also encourages states to expand or start so-called alternative routes to teacher licensure.

While many teachers get into the classroom through a college of education, fast-track licensing programs could be designed to place more candidates directly into high-need classrooms, the report said.

Given the role teach compensation plays in the state Supreme Court’s McCleary mandate, this research is timely and relevant. For those looking for a quick fix, this observation is important:

“Talking about this problem in a non-nuanced way is likely to create non-nuanced solutions that don’t get you very much in return,” Goldhaber said.


More on legislative proposals for a capital gains tax

Capital gains tax proposals continue to draw some attention during the legislative special session. As we wrote earlier today, they also received some attention Friday evening, when they were brought to the floor of the state Senate and rejected 0-48.

The Seattle Times recently carried pro and con op-eds on the subject. Writing the con statement, Jason Mercier points out one of the major challenges faced by proponents of the capital gains tax. 

The state constitution says that property must be taxed at a uniform rate, and the state Supreme Court has ruled repeatedly that income is property. In addition, voters have five times rejected constitutional amendments to allow a graduated income tax, and four times they have rejected proposals to call an income tax an “excise tax.”

Because of this history, income tax supporters are trying once again to sell the people an income tax wrapped up in excise tax clothing. 

Perhaps recognizing that the “excise tax clothing” doesn’t fit so well, the authors of the pro statement try a novel argument, treating the capital gains tax as a loophole-closing measure.

A simple solution, which has been embraced by 42 other states, would be to encourage our state lawmakers to close the tax break on the sale of stocks, bonds, and other high-end capital gains. 

Except, as Mercier points out, that “simple solution” is really just an income tax.

I contacted the departments of revenue of all 50 states asking how they treat capital gains. In every case, revenue officials reported that they consider a tax on capital gains to be an income tax. In a few instances, state revenue officials actually laughed at my question, because they thought the answer was obvious.

Those states that tax capital gains do so through their income tax codes. 

For a thorough analysis of the capital gains tax proposals under consideration (to a greater or lesser degree) in Olympia, we recommend this Washington Research Council report.

The WRC expands on the “excise tax” approach legislative proponents have taken, writing of the two bills introduced in the regular session,

Both bills describe the capital gains taxes to be excise taxes “on the privilege of selling or exchanging long-term capital assets.” For all intents and purposes, these taxes would appear to be income taxes. However, if the capital gains taxes are income taxes, the rates, 7.9 percent for Gov. Inslee and 7 percent for the House Democratic Caucus, would run afoul of the state constitution, which sets a 1 percent cap on the tax rate that can be applied to income.

By describing the taxes as excise taxes, the two proposals are trying to dance a narrow line drawn in two 1933 cases by the Washington Supreme Court. In the first of these cases, Chase v. Cullen, the court ruled that income is property and therefore that an income tax is subject to all the restrictions which the state constitution imposes on property taxes. In the second case, Stiner v. Yelle, the Court ruled the precursor to business and occu- pation tax to be a constitutionally permit- ted excise tax on the privilege of doing business rather than an unconstitutional property tax on the business’s income. 

The unanimous defeat in the state Senate doesn’t mean the capital gains debate is over. As the Associated Press reports

On Wednesday, the Senate Ways and Means Committee is holding a hearing on a Republican version of the overall House tax proposal. Braun said that while he doesn’t anticipate the Senate taking another floor vote on the taxes, the point of the hearing is to counter Democrats’ assertions that if they passed their tax bills out of their own chamber they would just languish in the Senate.

Further, the S-R reports Senate Democrats who voted against the tax Friday haven’t closed the door.

But Senate Minority Leader Sharon Nelson, D-Maury Island, called the vote a “political stunt” and said Monday that even though the taxes failed on Friday they could have support if they are necessary to pay for something in a negotiated budget.

The WRC report concludes with what might be the most compelling short-term argument against passing a capital gains tax to meet budget obligations this biennium.

The legislators are under pressure to find additional revenue to fulfill the state’s obligation under the McCleary decision to fully fund education by September 1, 2018 . Because their constitutionality is questionable, the capital gains taxes proposed by Gov. Inslee and the House Democratic Caucus are not good sources for such revenue, as they would be tied up in court for several years.

Adding a capital gains tax to the mix would make the state’s revenue stream more volatile. The additional volatility would surely increase fiscal stress on state government (and schools) in the next economic downturn.

Here’s a link to the revenue bill scheduled for Wednesday’s Senate Ways and Means hearing. It includes the capital gains “excise” tax.

Crickets announce the opening day of legislative special session

Yesterday’s special session was heralded with the sounds of, mostly, silence. In the Spokesman-Review, Jim Camden reports,

The Legislature’s special session opened quietly Monday morning to mostly empty chambers and routine paperwork.

The gavel came down to open the session promptly at 10 a.m. in the Senate, with four of the state’s 49 senators, Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib and members of the chamber’s administrative and caucus staffs present.

We’d like to think that’s because behind the scenes a lot of important work is being done. And that’s in part the case. The Associated Press reports,

Republican Sen. John Braun, the key budget writer in the Senate, said that budget meetings within his caucus are occurring, as are meetings with nonpartisan staff to discuss the differences between the two budgets. He also noted that the bipartisan meetings on the education portion of the budget are taking place three times a week, twice a day.

Still the fiscal impasse remains. From the S-R story,

On Friday, the last day most lawmakers were present, Senate Republicans tried to make a point on taxes House Democrats have proposed but say they will not bring to a vote until a budget deal is reached. They brought versions of tax proposals on a capital gains tax and changes to the state’s business and occupation tax to a vote in the Senate, where both failed 0-48…

Budget negotiations have not yet been scheduled, said House Appropriations Committee Chairman Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane. A group discussing improvements to the state’s public school system, and the money that would be needed to pay for them, is expected to meet Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, he said, but there are no formal negotiations on the remainder of the 2017-19 operating budget.

Ormsby called the Senate vote on the House tax proposals political theater, but rejected any suggestion that Democrats jump-start the negotiations by submitting a revised budget.

The Columbian editorial board wants lawmakers to “do better.”

Rather than arriving at this year’s session with a framework for negotiations, lawmakers have been content to engage in stare-down theatrics while waiting for the other side to blink first. The fact that they have arrived at a special session without being deep into the negotiating process — and that Gov. Jay Inslee has been unable to nudge the process along without doing more than blaming Republicans — is an embarrassment.

Throughout the process, both sides have engaged in cynical political displays rather than statesmanship. It is shameful that lawmakers have approached one of the most important policy debates in state history without a sense of urgency or a desire to put solutions above politics. The people of Washington deserve better.

Eventually, there will be a deal. But from all appearances, not just yet.



Legislature passes transportation budget in final days of regular session: $8.5 billion appropriated over biennium

In the last week of the regular session, lawmakers agreed to a state transportation budget, a bipartisan accomplishment deserving more attention. The budget, SB 5096, appropriates $8.5 billion over the 2017-2019 biennium.

In an email, Association of Washington Business Government Affairs Director for Transportation & Environmental Policy, Michael Ennis writes that the budget

  • Appropriates about $8.5 billion over the next two years.
  • Spends $4.2 billion in the various capital programs.
  • Shifts $60 million of additional TPA funds to help fill the $149 million cost overrun on the Alaska Way Viaduct Deep Bore Tunnel project.
  • Maintains the Connecting Washington package and only makes minor modifications by advancing some funding on five projects to earlier years.
  • Adds $162 million to existing fish passage barrier funding. The planned spending for these projects averages about $90 million per biennium through 2033, still far short of the $2.4 billion estimated total need.
  • Funds several studies, including: Board of Pilotage, I-405 Toll Data, Air Cargo, Role of the WTC, and alignment of an Ultra High Speed Rail line between Vancouver BC and Portland OR.

For those who want more detail, he provides links to the relevant documents:

Conference Committee Report and Striker
House/Senate Budget Comparison Reports
LEAP Transportation Document 2017-1: Highway Projects Partnership Acct Projects (dated 04/20/2017) 
LEAP Transportation Document 2017-2: All Projects (dated 04/20/2017)

We strongly supported the 2015 Connecting Washington comprehensive transportation investment package. The 2017-2019 transportation budget will be the first  biennium of full funding for that legislation. 


Editorial frustration with yet another special session to develop a state budget

State legislators come in for some editorial board criticism for failing to complete budget work on time. 

The Spokesman-Review writes, Lawmakers must stop posturing, start negotiating. After a quick review of the budget challenges known to all before the session began in January and the political impasse in Olympia, the editorial concludes,

On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee said he’s done everything short of waterboarding to get the two sides to negotiate, but that kind of pressure was needed long ago. The Legislature has been in contempt of court over education funding since 2014. Instead, the governor has pushed his own unrealistic proposals.

At the end of the last legislative session, where a similar standoff occurred, it should’ve been obvious that the Legislature needed a framework for a final education deal before the next session began. For whatever reason, that didn’t occur. At this point, it doesn’t matter. 

So stop the dueling press releases, quit searching for future campaign sound bites and get to work. The only developments coming out of Olympia should be ideas about compromise. 

Now that would be news.

The Seattle Times hit lawmakers in two editorials. First, they gave the Legislature a report card. Filled with Fs and Ds – one B, for effort – t’s not one you’d want to bring home to your parents. The improvement plan:

Detention, in Olympia, until the work is finished. At risk of expulsion.

Then, they followed up with a sharp critique of all the major players in the Olympia fiscal play. The editorial faults House Democrats for a budget built on unrealistic taxes that fails to address local levies. Senate Republicans are dinged for not putting enough revenue behind their plan, proposing too many cuts in social services and early education and putting their levy-swap proposal to a public vote in November. And the governor is faulted for putting his ability to moderate a compromise at risk by appearing too partisan. There’s more. They conclude:

We’ve seen this B-movie script before. End the theater. Compromise. Get to the negotiating table. Washington’s students are waiting.

 Unfortunately, many observers believe the differences – philosophical and fiscal – between the approaches the two chambers’ budgets will not be resolved quickly. Expect more waiting.

Unable to reach budget agreement, Legislature goes into overtime. Gov. Inslee will call them back into session Monday.

The announcement isn’t news; the situation is far from new. As anticipated, lawmakers failed to reach agreement on education funding and a state budget, which are pretty much the same thing this year.

Gov. Inslee says he’ll call them back on Monday “to get this job done.” (TVW coverage here.)

The Seattle Times reports,

Gov. Jay Inslee Friday called a special legislative session to begin Monday so Washington lawmakers could continue their work on education funding and a new operating budget.

With the state’s 105-day regular session winding down, lawmakers are quietly negotiating a resolution on K-12 school funding to resolve the state Supreme Court’s McCleary order.

Meanwhile, legislators aren’t even bothering to negotiate over a 2017-19 state operating budget.

The Olympian frames the negotiations stalemate this way. 

For weeks, Republicans in Olympia have said they can’t start budget negotiations because House Democrats won’t vote on billions in taxes they’ve proposed to pay for their two-year spending plan.

Now, Democrats are leveling the same criticism at Republicans, saying the Republican tax plan is equally reliant on nonexistent dollars because it would need to go to voters for final approval.

The regular session ends Sunday, but most lawmakers will go home today. Many of them may stay there a while, as the Associated Press wrote this morning.
Democratic House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said Thursday that a majority of lawmakers would remain in their home districts and that just the budget negotiators would return to the Capitol next week.

The group negotiating policies for public schools, to satisfy the state Supreme Court’s order, will probably meet daily. But there’s no schedule yet for formal negotiations for the state’s operating budget, a spending plan of at least $43 billion that covers most state programs and salaries.

The gap between the proposals of the two chambers, particularly with respect to revenues, will not be bridged quickly.
The editorial board of the Union-Bulletin, anticipating the situation, wrote,

If this drags on until the end of June, it could be a mess — particularly if lawmakers do not use their time wisely. If senators and representatives continue to just hiss at each other for two months and then cobble together a make-do budget that doesn’t satisfy the high court, it will be a failure.

Lawmakers need to get the people’s work accomplished sooner rather than later.

Sooner is unlikely. As Austin Jenkins writes for the NW News Network,
If history is any guide Washington lawmakers will take until the end of the fiscal year pass a final budget. That’s June 30.
Expect a lot more expressions of editorial frustration this weekend.

Friday Roundup: Universal basic income, UW honored, school siting, school administrator comp, proposed Seattle income tax

There are always a few items we’ve read during the week that deserve more attention but don’t make it into our regular posts. So we bundle them for the Friday roundup.

Here’s this week’s bundle:

New Geography: Universal Basic Income: A “Social Vaccine” for Technological Displacement?

Technology leaders understand that their work contributes to displacement and inequality. In “The Disruptors: Silicon Valley Elites’ Vision of the Future,” Greg Ferenstein reports on a survey of tech leaders. He found that most agreed with Paul Graham, the highly influential web leader, that it is the “job of tech to create inequality…You can’t prevent great variations in wealth without preventing people from getting rich, and you can’t do that without preventing them from starting startups.”

…At the same time, working people have become increasingly resistant to the uncritical acceptance of workplace technology, and this contributes to the populist backlash we’re seeing in the U.S. and across Europe. 

Puget Sound Business Journal: University of Washington ranks among the 10 best public colleges

UW, which has more than 28,000 full-time undergraduate students, ranked No 7 with nearly 87 points.

The University of Michigan ranked No. 1. UW was also outranked by universities in Georgia, California, Virginia and North Carolina.

“We are pleased that the results suggest we are doing exceptionally well (at educating our students and launching them on to the next phase of their lives),” UW President Ana Mari Cauce said in a statement. “Being No. 7 puts us in great company.”

Seattle Times: Local university team is top scorer in math competition on self-driving cars

A team of math whizzes at the University of Puget Sound provided a top-rated answer in a mathematics-modeling competition that required them to examine how self-driving cars might affect traffic patterns in Greater Seattle.

Their answer? If their model is correct, self-driving cars could help lessen traffic jams.

Washington Research Council: School-siting bill clears state House, heads to governor’s desk

Legislation long sought by overcrowded school districts to grant flexibility for building new schools cleared its final legislative hurdle this week. The state House Tuesday approved changes made by the Senate last week to House Bill (or as it’s now known as, Engrossed Substitute House Bill) 1017, which allows school districts – in some circumstances – to build schools outside of the state Growth Management Act’s (GMA) mandated “urban growth areas.” 

Seattle Times: As part of McCleary fix, lawmakers may end disparities in pay for school administrators

Amid all the bickering over how to finally resolve the landmark McCleary school-funding case, there appears to be bipartisan agreement to stop giving some districts more per teacher and per administrator than others…

Lawmakers have also come up with several proposed changes for administrative pay,

Democrats in control of the House want to set a flat, statewide rate, with some extra money given to districts where it’s more expensive to hire people. Meanwhile, the GOP-led Senate has proposed dismantling the entire salary system, favoring a per-pupil funding model that allows districts more flexibility in setting pay rates. But Republicans also want to cap all school-district salaries at 80 percent of a district’s total budget.

Seattle Times: Seattle Mayor Ed Murray proposes income tax for city’s ‘high-end’ households

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray will propose a city income tax on “high-end” households, he said Thursday night during a forum for mayoral candidates.

On stage with six challengers in a Lake City church, Murray said he would send a proposal in the “next few weeks” for a City Council vote. He didn’t offer many details.