Five years and five months have passed since the Washington Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers are not meeting their constitutional duty to amply fund basic education. Since then, legislators have racked up more than $63 million in fines (and counting — $100,000 per day) by failing to make any significant progress to fix the problem.
And still, we wait. Teachers wait. Parents wait. Students wait. Legislators are in a special session with no traction toward a funding solution. In the Tukwila School District, our budget planning is in limbo until we know what our revenues will be next year. Because schools are accountable to immovable legal deadlines, we will have to implement worst-case-scenario measures such as notifying some staff members that they do not have guaranteed contracts for 2017-18. Those valued educators may look for and get jobs elsewhere; morale dips and learning suffers. This is just one more example of the tremendous harm befalling classrooms because of lawmakers’ inaction.
I would like to clarify. This is not about school funding. This is about a quality education for every child and doing what’s best for our collective future. This is not about more money. This is about the right kind of money creating an effective, equitable and accountable system of public education.
First and foremost, schools should be funded based on student need. Right now, there are many complicated factors that determine a school’s state funding, but the most significant is teacher seniority level. It’s a system in which the most-in-need schools are often the most resource-starved. Let me say that again: The children who need the most get the least. It’s ironic and makes little sense. If education is truly about the students, let’s re-center resources around their needs. A child’s zip code should not predetermine their quality of school — and life — but unfortunately it does.
A funding model designed to boost student achievement should include additional resources for homeless students, students in poverty and foster students. We need to provide for the whole child in education, which includes culturally responsive pedagogy, trauma-informed instruction and social-emotional learning, because many children simply cannot be present in a classroom before their basic needs are met.
We also must acknowledge that educators do the most important work in society. It is the noblest profession. Let’s provide additional enhancements to attract, train, mentor and retain teachers in hard-to-staff schools and districts, like Tukwila — especially if they come with specialized endorsements in ELL (English-language learner) and special education. We need to support talented educators.
In my vision for the Tukwila School District, every child, beginning at birth, has a wide-open pipeline — filled with caring and effective teachers — to multiple career and college pathways of their choosing. Every child, first and foremost, has access to rigorous, relevant, STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math)-based curriculum. Every child who needs additional academic support — whether they are struggling or excelling — gets it. Every child who needs additional non-academic support gets it. The school day is transformed into a student-led exploration of real-world problems, with lessons and learning available anytime, anywhere, through online resources. We as educators are accountable not just for students’ proficiency on standard assessments, but for nurturing students’ talents and passions to set them up for a fulfilling and successful life. Ultimately, students will graduate from the Tukwila School District with choice — the choice to go on to a post-secondary education or an opportunity to contribute to the workforce in business or industry.
Rigor. Relevancy. Flexibility. Excitement. Excellence. These are the things we want to focus on for our children. It’s time for a common-sense, student-focused funding model that supports our vision.
And still, we wait. Teachers wait. Parents wait. Students wait.
Tukwila School Superintendent Nancy Coogan can be reached at 206-901-8006 or at email@example.com.