Clarifying the charter public schools debate, support for postsecondary credentials, and managing school budgets

We want to call your attention to three articles relevant to current education discussions in our state.

First, The Everett Herald endorses the Path to 70% Credential Attainment report we wrote about last week. The Herald editorial board writes

 Of those graduating high school in 2015, about 40 percent are expected to have career training or a college degree by the time they are 26. But that’s still not enough.

In order to meet the demand for qualified employees, 70 percent of Washington’s youths need those credentials by age 26.

Washington Roundtable, since the release of its initial report in 2016, has pushed for policy changes and investments by the Legislature, in the business community, public schools, trade schools, colleges and universities to meet that goal…

The Roundtable’s most recent report focuses on the need to increase enrollment in post-secondary programs. About 77 percent of the high school class of 2015 will enroll in college or career programs. That number also must increase to 95 percent. Increasing that percentage, the report recommends, requires better guidance of K-12 students in career opportunities and pathways, more convenient access to post-secondary programs and more financial assistance to high school graduates.

There’s more:

Emphasis on career and technical education has sometimes been criticized as an effort to draw students away from colleges and universities. That’s not the intent here, [Roundtable president Steve] Mullin said, because doing so wouldn’t increase the larger pool of those with degrees or credentials. But the Roundtable does want to see all students introduced and helped along career pathways that are the closest fit with their interests and talents.

There’s plenty here for all — lawmakers, state officials, employers, school districts, community and technical colleges, parents and students — to pick up a tool and start work.

The jobs will be there. Our kids have to be ready for them.


Second, in an op-ed in the Everett Herald, former Attorney General Rob McKenna and Patrick D’Amelio, head of the Washington State Charter School Association clarify a key issue in charter school funding in Washington,

The crux of the charter public school debate in Washington is no longer about financing. Washington’s updated Charter Schools Act, passed by a bipartisan Legislature in 2016, did just what the Herald Board asked — by creating a new funding mechanism for charter public schools in Washington state.

Additional speculation about the ampleness of funds simply distracts from the real question before the courts: Will they uphold the will of the voters, the Legislature and lower courts? The question lies not in the amount of money that is available should the sector boom, but whether or not our charter school law is constitutional. The voters of Washington, our state legislators, and the King County Superior Court certainly think so.

Charter public schools are financed by the lottery-funded Opportunity Pathways Account rather than the taxpayer-funded general fund, creating a separate stream of funding. Why is this necessary, when every other type of public school is financed from the General Fund? Our state constitution is clear that the general fund must fund our state’s common schools (the traditional public schools, governed by local school boards and funded in part from local school levies), but is also clear that the Legislature isn’t limited to providing just one form of public school.

There’s much more in the op-ed. We recommend reading it in its entirety. For more on the pending lawsuit, see our posts here and here.

Finally, the Seattle Times editorial board has some advice for local school districts as they pursue teacher contract negotiations in the wake of McCleary. 

The school year might be ending, but many districts and teachers unions across Washington are negotiating their first contracts since the Supreme Court approved the Legislature’s reforms in response to its 2012 McCleary decision.

Parents, administrators and teachers should remember that the school funding case was not just about more money for schools or teacher salaries. The school funding lawsuit also was about making sure every child in Washington gets a high-quality education that prepares them for college and career. Budgets and teacher contracts should support this ideal.

The editorial points out that the state’s response to McCleary provides ample funding for basic education (excepting special education, which the editorial board believes requires more money) and shouldn’t require a tough tradeoff between teacher pay and other school needs (supplies, transportation, technology and the like). Then it offers a warning.

School districts must be careful, however, not to commit more dollars to teacher contracts than they are receiving from the state. Under the new system, local voters will not be able to make up the difference with property-tax levies if contracts take school districts into the red.