New report examines Senate education plan; HS graduation rates rises; STEM education tops national legislative agenda

A few education items we wanted to call to your attention this week:

Budget and McCleary

The Washington Research Council has analyzed the Senate’s K-12 plan. Last week, we linked to the WRC report on the plans offered by the governor and the House. The Research Council concludes,

SSB 5607 represents a significant overhaul of the current K–12 system. It has the potential to both comply with the McCleary decision and improve outcomes for students. A recent report from the Washington Roundtable and Partner- ship for Learning recommends a student- based funding system similar to the one proposed by SSB 5607: “By driving additional resources to students with greater needs, this easy-to-understand system can improve equity and outcomes” 

Also, given the safeguards the bill puts in place to keep local funds from being used for basic education, it could help keep the state from being in this situation again. The bill’s substitution of state for local funds would reduce the uncon- stitutional reliance on local levies to fund education and increase property taxes overall, but the Legislature will have to find additional resources to fully fund the proposed spending.

After briefly comparing the plans, the Council notes, 

Budget writers have their work cut out for them this session.

Graduation Rates

In our Friday Roundup we highlighted one story on the improvement in the state’s high school graduation rate. Here we’d like to expand on that a bit. Graduation rates are among the metrics we use in calculation our Opportunity Score. Our latest release show’s Washington ranking 38th in the nation, far from our “top ten” goal.

The News Tribune reports,

New data on the success of Washington public high school students shows four-year graduation rates at an all-time high of 79.1 percent for the Class of 2016…The state average is up a full percentage point from 2015. And that single point means 1,528 more students, the equivalent of a large high school, graduated in 2016.

That’s good, but

The graduation data, released this weekby the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, was accompanied by more sobering data on how students fare in their first year of high school, on the way to a diploma.

That data indicate that just over one in five Washington ninth-graders — 22.5 percent — failed at least one math, English or science course in the school year ending in 2016. This is the first year the state has released the ninth-grade data, but OSPI calculated the data for the previous two years. In the school year that ended in 2014, the ninth-grade failure rate was nearly 25 percent, so the rate has fallen slightly.

The nation’s high school graduation rate was 83 percent for the 2014-15 school year, the most recent data available…

Broken down by gender, the statewide rate was 82 percent for females and 76 percent for males. Those rates are up from three years before, when they were 80 percent and 72 percent, respectively.

Among racial subgroups, Asian students had the highest graduation rate, at 89 percent, while American Indian/Alaskan Native had the lowest, at 61 percent. However, the American Indian/Alaskan Native rate made the most improvement, up from 53 percent for the class of 2013.

 Progress, to be sure, but still a long ways to go.
STEM Education
We’ve written much about the importance of STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math), particularly as a pathway to enhanced career opportunities. A skilled STEM workforce is also critical for expanding economic opportunity. Washington has routinely ranked high among the states for its innovation economy. Nationally, legislatures are making STEM education a priority, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The United States Department of Education’s STEM 2026 report, estimates that major American companies will need to add nearly 1.6 million STEM-skilled employees over the next five years.

Growing state economies is always a big focus for legislators and many are looking towards improving the STEM workforce as a way to address job growth in their states.

The competition to provide the best possible education for students across the county is a good thing, a competition in which the winners will be the students themselves.

Friday Roundup: Seattle housing, UW engineering school, the gig economy, graduation rates and teacher retention

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: Vancouverizing Seattle?

A recent Wall Street Journal article (“For Chinese buyers, Seattle is the new Vancouver”) reported that Seattle was replacing Vancouver as the most popular destination for Chinese buyers in North America. ..Vancouver has literally become the third most unaffordable city (metropolitan area) in the nine nations covered by the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey...

All of this is a cautionary tale for the Seattle metropolitan area, which also has urban containment policy, but of more recent vintage…Seattle has a severely unaffordable median multiple of 5.5, slightly worse than Vancouver’s 5.3 in 2004. In the late 1980s, before Seattle imposed its metropolitan- urban containment policy, the median multiple was as low as 2.4.

Seattle Times: Students frustrated trying to get into UW’s strict engineering program

At a time when students are encouraged to go into careers in science and technology, as well as business, it’s becoming harder and harder to do so in some majors at the state’s largest flagship university.

Of the roughly 2,000 students in each class who say they want to major in one of the engineering disciplines, fewer than half will get in. 

 …No major is more competitive than computer science — only about a third of the students who apply get in. For those students, some help is on the way; the UW has gotten millions from private industry and the state Legislature to construct a new computer science building, which will allow it to double the number of students it can handle in the coming years.

As more and more Americans hold nontraditional jobs that don’t have benefits attached — think freelance graphic designers or Uber drivers — cities and states are exploring ways to ensure those workers still have access to workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, and other support such as help paying for health insurance.

Think tanks and some tech and labor leaders have called for truly “portable” accounts that travel with the worker no matter how he or she earns money. Washington state Rep. Jessyn Farrell, a Democrat, proposed a bill last week that takes a first step toward a more flexible, inclusive benefit system…

While some companies that rely on nontraditional workers, such as Etsy and Lyft, say they support the idea of making benefits more portable and flexible, companies can be leery of forming something more like a traditional employer-employee relationship and taking on all the legal responsibilities and expense that entails.

Seattle Times: New report: 80 percent of Washington’s novice teachers still in class after five years

It’s often said that beginning teachers leave their profession in droves within their first five years.Even if that’s true elsewhere, it’s not the case in Washington state, according to a new study from the University of Washington. 

Here, only about a fifth of new teachers leave before they’ve been in the classroom for five years. And the poverty level of the teacher’s school didn’t affect the likelihood of whether he or she would leave.

The News Tribune: Educators happy, but keeping a wary eye on graduation, course failure data

New data on the success of Washington public high school students shows four-year graduation rates at an all-time high of 79.1 percent for the Class of 2016.

…The state average is up a full percentage point from 2015. And that single point means 1,528 more students, the equivalent of a large high school, graduated in 2016.

The graduation data, released this weekby the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, was accompanied by more sobering data on how students fare in their first year of high school, on the way to a diploma.


University of Washington and University of British Columbia establish urban data center to advance social good in Cascadia

Today the University of Washington and University of British Columbia announced creation of the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative

In an expansion of regional cooperation, the University of British Columbia and the University of Washington today announced the establishment of the Cascadia Urban Analytics Cooperative to use data to help cities and communities address challenges from traffic to homelessness. The largest industry-funded research partnership between UBC and the UW, the collaborative will bring faculty, students and community stakeholders together to solve problems, and is made possible thanks to a $1-million gift from Microsoft…

“We have an unprecedented opportunity to use data to help our communities make decisions, and as a result improve people’s lives and well-being. That commitment to the public good is at the core of the mission of our two universities, and we’re grateful to Microsoft for making a community-minded contribution that will spark a range of collaborations,” said UW President Ana Mari Cauce.

The project continues efforts to expand regional cooperation between Vancouver and Seattle. 

Today’s announcement follows last September’s Emerging Cascadia Innovation Corridor Conference in Vancouver, B.C. The forum brought together regional leaders for the first time to identify concrete opportunities for partnerships in education, transportation, university research, human capital and other areas.

We wrote about the conference here and here.

Geek Wire reports,

In a blog post Thursday, Microsoft President Brad Smith wrote that the partnership represents the “region’s single largest university-based, industry-funded joint research project.”

The cooperative will bring together students, researchers, and public stakeholders to solve problems in areas like transportation, housing, and climate. The goal is to build on research from UW’s eScience Institute, its Data Science for Social Good summer program and UBC’s Data Science Institute. The two institutions have worked together on a couple of projects in the past.

The Geek Wire story adds,

Here’s Smith explanation for why Microsoft got involved in the partnership:

We believe that this one grant will enable the two universities to complete twice as much joint research over the next two years as they have accomplished in the past 10. But our goal is bigger than this one-time gift. We see this investment as a catalyst for broader and more sustainable efforts between these two institutions that will benefit both Washington state and British Columbia, and the U.S. and Canada more broadly.

This is an exciting development, a unique and visionary partnership with unlimited potential for improving the quality of life and expanding opportunity in our region and beyond.

Movement on McCleary: Houses passes plan without funding; New projections show higher costs and taxes for Senate plan

On a party-line vote, the House passed the Democrats’ proposed McCleary fix, albeit without an associated funding plan. Melissa Santos reports in The News Tribune

The Washington state House approved a plan Wednesday to fix the way the state pays for public schools, but without approving the taxes Democratic leaders say will be necessary to pay for it. 

The measure, which cleared the House on a 50-47 vote Wednesday, is Democrats’ preferred way to respond to a state Supreme Court order requiring lawmakers to fully fund public schools.

As Santos writes,

It differs from a rival plan favored by Republican leaders in the state Senate, which would impose a new statewide property tax to replace local school district property tax levies. 

In the McCleary case, the high court has called on the Legislature to end the use of local levies to pay school employee salaries, which the court has said are basic education costs that should be paid by the state.

The passage of the House plan Wednesday sets up what is expected to be a long negotiation toward a final McCleary solution. 

In a press release, House Republicans criticized the House legislation, 

“We are discussing a bill that would cost billions of dollars, and if the intent is to use taxes to pay for it, then Washington taxpayers deserve to know where the money is going to come from,” said [Rep. Paul] Harris, R-Vancouver. “There has yet to be a vote taken or even scheduled on any legislation that would fund this plan. If the majority party does not have the confidence to bring the funding pieces forward and show us they have the votes to pay for it, then I am confident this is not a meaningful plan.”

Santos reports,

Democratic leaders have said they’ll look to a variety of new revenue options — including taxing capital gains from the sales stocks and bonds, as well as taxing carbon emissions — to cover their plan’s costs.

…Unlike Republicans, Democrats have said a McCleary solution isn’t possible without new revenue.

The plan put forth by the GOP-led Senate majority wouldn’t require new taxes, Republican leaders have said. But it would rely on about $800 million a year in unspecified savings, which GOP leaders have said can be found in the state’s existing budget.


While earlier estimates suggested the GOP plan would cost about $5.3 billion over the next four years, the numbers released Wednesday by nonpartisan staff estimate the plan would cost closer to $6.9 billion during that timeframe. 

Still, Senate Republican leaders say many Washington homeowners will see their property taxes go down under their plan, due to how it would simultaneously reduce local school district levies.

State Senate Republicans have released revised numbers for their proposal to fully fund the state’s K-12 school system — and they show that many Seattle-area homeowners would see a big property-tax increase…The revised numbers come about two weeks after legislative staff discovered problems with the GOP plan. 

The revised numbers correct for “a significant understatement error in the original calculations” on student-enrollment numbers, according to an overview of the revisions.

That factor accounted for most of the difference in the new numbers, said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, the chief GOP budget writer. Braun said the changes are “an improvement” to the original bill and are not unusual in something as complex as education funding.

In addition to changes in the property tax shift, O’Sullivan writes, the new estimates will require further budget adjustments.

The new GOP plan also increases the amount of money that Republicans are seeking from elsewhere in the budget to fund education. The plan now calls for finding $1.7 billion in existing tax revenue over two years to help fund K-12 education, according to Braun. In the original they were seeking $1.4 billion in that time frame.

While we and others have written that all of the pieces are in place for McCleary negotiations between the chambers, the funding uncertainties remain a significant roadblock to serious discussion. This may be the end of the beginning, but there’s a long way yet to travel.

Editorials in Seattle Times & Yakima Herald-Republic praise court decision upholding charter school law

The editorial boards of the Seattle Times and the Yakima Herald-Republic hail Judge John H. Chun’s ruling last week supporting the state charter school law. We wrote of the decision earlier this week, concluding

It would be best for all concerned to let this be the last chapter in the saga. Let the decision stand and focus on improving public education for all students, those in traditional public schools and those in charter public schools.

The Seattle Times editorial says,

NOW that a King County Superior Court judge has ruled that Washington’s charter-schools law is constitutional, the detractors of this promising education approach should stand down…

The Washington Education Association and its coalition partners who filed suit against Washington’s charter-schools law should spend its money and attention on improving education and helping all teachers rise to their potential in the classroom. An appeal to the Washington Supreme Court would just be a waste of time and taxpayer money.

The Yakima Herald-Republic editorial is equally clear.

A spokesman for the Washington Education Association said Friday that opponents are not sure if they will appeal, and they may direct their efforts to the Legislature. The best course would be to get out of the way and allow the still-limited charter school experiment — only eight charters operate statewide, with three more scheduled to open next fall — conduct their mission under the oversight of the charter schools commission. Many of the schools target low-income and minority students, whose academic performance lags behind their peers in our current system.

The judge’s “ripeness” determination is appropriate for a school system that is ripe for innovation — innovation that could start with the charter schools if given the chance.

We agree. Enough.

Ready Washington releases new “Career Ready” video: Job opportunities reinforce importance of education accountability

The latest “Career Ready” video released by Ready Washington, a coalition supporting career- and college-ready learning standards, puts a face on career opportunities in our state. 

Students in Washington state have many career paths available to them after they graduate high school, and learning about potential jobs they might pursue is an important part of preparing for their futures.

At McKinstry, a Washington company with a wide mix of career jobs, students can get a window into several career paths in the latest Ready Washington video, “Career Ready..” 

It’s a short introduction into an expanding world of career opportunities that are available to students with the right education. and training. As Ready Washington writes,

The many different career paths at McKinstry are indicative of Washington state as a whole. A recent report found that Washington employers anticipate 740,000 job openings over the next five years. A majority of those jobs will require a postsecondary credential, such as a technical or industry certification, apprenticeship, or degree. In Washington state, a 24-credit high school diploma is the bridge to any number of options, whether those be work, training, or college.

In our foundation report, we cited the 24-credit high school diploma as progress in improving K-12 education.

Legislators recently enacted several measures that are expected to increase the probability that public education will better prepare students for 21st century success:

  • 2014: Passed a 24-credit requirement for graduation from high school (to be effective for students graduating in 2019).38 This better aligns graduation requirements with college-entry requirements.

The state Board of Education endorses the graduation requirement, saying, 

The State Board’s vision is of an education system that prepares all students for college, career and life. In Washington, high school students must meet credit and testing requirements. In support of this vision, the Board worked to create a 24-credit framework designed to be both rigorous and flexible. Elements of this framework are being phased-in for the Class of 2016, and the full 24-credit credits will be required for the Class of 2019.,,

The Board believes that new credit requirements and new learning standards, combined with the excellent work of Washington’s educators and schools, will help all students graduate prepared for their next steps in life.

Preparation – education and training – paves the way for career success. The Ready Washington video includes this observation:

[McKinstry CEO] Dean Allen knows the future is bright for Washington kids, especially those who plan their paths early. “The sooner kids can understand that they can do it, and they can achieve it, and they find something that’s exciting, the sooner they’ll be driving their own educational progress.”

There have been some calls in this legislative session to relax standards and requirements. But the real world experience in firms like McKinstry and others – the firms that will provide 740,000 new job opportunities over the next five years – prove that this is not the time to sound retreat. There’s too much at stake.

Besides, as Dean Allen says, the kids can do it.


State’s top economist describes uneven distribution of economic prosperity to Association of Washington Business audience

Earlier this month, we wrote of the generally solid economic and revenue growth in the state. And, previously we’ve written about the urban-rural divide, contending that it’s vital for the state to pursue policies that promote shared prosperity.

In remarks last week the state’s top economist expanded on the theme. As reported by the Association of Washington Business,

Steve Lerch, executive director of the state Economic and Revenue Forecast Council, told AWB’s Lobby Lunch audience Thursday that the economic boom in the central Puget Sound has not been seen throughout the state.

For example, it took Seattle until June 2013 to return to the number of jobs it had at the peak in February 2008, before the start of the Great Recession. But in many rural areas, it took much longer. Yakima didn’t return to pre-recession job numbers until November, 2014. It took Bellingham until January 2015 and Mount Vernon didn’t fully recover until January 2016. Since then, Mount Vernon has actually seen a small drop in employment.

“It’s not translating to the rest of the state,” Lerch said.

For the full presentation, view the video

We’re pleased that AWB is making these Lobby Lunch presentations available to people who cannot attend in person.

Other Lobby Lunches on video – top gubernatorial advisers, Republican leadership and Democratic leadership – are available here.



Increasing opportunity through education and work experience provides more enduring benefits than minimum wage hikes

The 2016 election has done little to end the discussion of the minimum wage and its effects on employment, business, and mobility. Washington state and Seattle feature prominently in the national conversation. Passage of Initiative 1433 gives Washington the country’s highest statewide minimum; Seattle’s $15 wage makes it a leader among metro areas. 

And while Washington voters and metro officials have endorsed the high-minimum-wage policy, it’s worth examining the potential consequences and considering other strategies for expanding opportunities for low-wage workers and promoting upward mobility. We’ve written often about the importance of education, particularly postsecondary education, to workers seeking entry into Washington’s vibrant economy.

Economist Aparna Mathur has a brief article for the American Enterprise Institute in which she argues that wage hikes should be approached with caution.

The truth is that there are better ways to help low-wage workers. For one, the federal government can supplement incomes by expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit program. A targeted program with no risk of job loss, the EITC has been proven to lift people out of poverty, and it is the best way to boost incomes for poor households.

At the same time, encouraging upgraded skills for workers through greater investments in on-the-job training and paid apprenticeship programs for younger workers would allow for greater upward mobility even for workers starting off in minimum wage jobs.

While boosting wages for workers is critical, helping workers retain their jobs and enabling them to move up the income ladder is even better. The risk of job loss that comes with a minimum wage hike threatens the ability of these workers to get on that ladder. States that are on track to approve such an increase should proceed with tremendous caution.

Washington has already approved the increase, of course, but caution still makes sense. Having adopted the higher wages, it’s arguably even more important for our state to support the education and skill training that Mathur cites as critical to promoting greater upward mobility.

At E21, Dillon Tauzin emphasizes the importance of on-the-job training and notes that the loss of entry-level jobs can also deny job seekers the opportunity to take the first step on the career ladder.

… it is helpful to recognize that an opportunity to work is an opportunity to learn. Hence, the question of the minimum wage is about education. It follows that an opportunity to work at a low wage is an opportunity to learn at a low wage.

There’s anecdotal evidence already that the increased statewide minimum wage has hurt some small businesses, who have reduced hiring and even shut down. But that evidence is mixed and preliminary. And, it’s also clear that the higher minimum wage is but a partial and, in many respects, unsatisfactory strategy for advancing mobility and opportunity.

Ideally, we’ll see the investment in accountable, effective education that will promote career development. After all, entry-level jobs are not designed to be life-time employment, but steps to something better. And that something better will increasingly require students to graduate from high school prepared to successfully acquire postsecondary certification or a college degree.