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    Real state support for schools: A roadmap

    Lawmakers keep weasling out of true support for schools. Maybe citizen pressure would change that.
    A class project for a fundraising auction

    A class project for a fundraising auction Jonathan Caves/Flickr

    Last December, I bought a holiday wreath from my buddy, Jaden, who’s raising money for his school’s space camp. Then I read “Not Very Giving,” a New York Times op-ed by Stanford University political scientist Rob Reich. 

    It seems, though, that in purchasing the wreath, I participated in a process — school fundraising — that lessens pressure on legislators to fund public education, distributes the most money to schools needing it least and widens the equality gap. Adding insult to injury, Reich says, much of the fundraising that promotes this inequality is subsidized by taxpayers — donations to public schools and local school foundations are not taxed.

     How am I supposed to support local schools? How does 6th grader Jaden get to the space camp with his public school classmates? And how do other children have the resources that they need for a quality education year in and year out?

    For answers to these and other questions, I consulted educators, advocates, and parents. Here’s what I learned:

    Fundraising is an education funding Band-Aid. A very small Band-Aid.   

    In 2012, the State Supreme Court determined that Washington’s public schools are under-funded, and mandated the Legislature to fully fund them by 2018. But at its current rate, the Legislature will not do so until 2028-29, according to Tom Ahearne, attorney for the plaintiff in McCleary. While fundraising may work for schools in affluent areas, it fails in low-income communities.

    Tanya Hansen, whose three children attended Sunset Elementary in Issaquah, says  the school does not want for anything, citing as evidence its 26 interactive white boards (cost: $90,000). She says this is due in no small part to the PTA’s fundraising (which included a biennial fundraiser-auction that netted about $200,000 last year). Though she was active in Sunset’s fundraising, Hansen describes it as “crazy” and “big business,” adding, "It's one fundraiser after another. It’s like they’re asking for money all the time.” 

    When I ask Southeast Seattle Education Coalition (SESEC) program director, Katherine Barr, about local school fundraising, she stops to think: “Dunlap raised about $15,000 last year.” At Dunlap Elementary, 87 percent of students receive a free or reduced lunch. Barr and colleague Yalonda Gill Masundire, SESEC's school/community based organizations partnership coordinator, rattle off  reasons that parents don’t raise more money: working two jobs, language barriers (Dunlap students speak over 11 languages), cultural barriers, lack of child care and lack of transportation.   

    Without benefit of greater fundraising, schools like Dunlap are unlikely to have the staff they need, never mind interactive white boards, according to Sharrone Navas, executive director of the Equity in Education Coalition. She says that in low-income areas, “schools will often have a part-time or quarter-time” nurse and counselor. Barr agrees, saying that local principals begin the school year with questions like, “Do I have an assistant principal or a counselor? Music or P.E.?”  

    Selling cookie dough is good. Widespread, ongoing citizen action directed at the Washington State Legislature is better.  

    The Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (a coalition of 420 community groups, school districts and education associations that filed the McCleary lawsuit) suggests this: “A groundswell of grassroots support for significant K-12 education funding increases this legislative session can make all the difference [in funding public education]. But advocates wonder if a successful groundswell — at least this year, anyway — is likely. There are several reasons for their doubt:

    • Not enough supporters: Melissa Westbrook, a long-time education activist who blogs about Seattle public education issues, believes that parents would prefer fundraising for their local schools instead of organizing on a statewide issue. Ahearne, the McCleary case attorney, says, “Kids don’t vote,” and other public education supporters don’t constitute enough of a voting bloc to effectively advocate more funding.
    • Not enough time: According to Sharonne Navas, “It’s hard to rally parents to advocate for funding when they are working two jobs, living in a sub-par apartment and barely making enough to buy food for their family.”
    • Not enough change: Jesse Hagopian,a  Garfield High School teacher and education activist, says that even after demonstrations at the Capitol, civil disobedience, the McCleary decision and the advocacy of teachers’ unions “year after year, …the Legislature is still dragging its heels.”

    Westbrook cites advocates’ work to pass Initiatives 728 and 732 in 2000, which funded smaller class sizes and mandated yearly raises, respectively, and which the Legislature repealed and sabotaged. “What’s changed?” she asks.

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    Posted Fri, Mar 7, 2:43 p.m. Inappropriate

    Inslee would be wise to support schools and not support neo-liberal regressive policies from the ALEC playbook.

    If a state can legalize pot, they can elect a third party governor next time.

    Posted Sat, Mar 8, 10:49 a.m. Inappropriate

    ALEC is Neo-liberal? Have you been getting into the legalized marijuana early friend? The American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC) is funded and run by the Koch brothers among other noted conservatives. If you look at their membership you will also notice that Conservatives tend to flock to their all expenses paid seminars, not liberals. Neo-conservative is more likely. Which begs another question, why would Inslee support a neo-conservative group?

    One thing I agree with you on though is the regressive policies part. ALEC and their cronies, flood the legislative slate each session, with reform bills that, again, put funding on hold and attempt to raise the bar for those that need the money the most, teachers working with students. Instead of downsizing the number of students in a class (a research based approach that results in learning improvement) the ALEC movement points at teacher performance and says it's to blame (without any evidence to prove it). See they don't like using any research based approaches, mostly because nothing exists to support their position. This reliance on running a smoke and mirrors program to divert attention away from what really needs to be accomplished is most annoying. For instance and backing up a point I made earlier, the requiring of teachers to be evaluated using statewide standardized tests that measure annual student growth. Presently, none of these so called assessments have been invented or implemented at the state level. Yet we need pass legislation to do it for the $40 million the federal government is holding over our heads. Further, taking into account that the current assessments only measure growth at certain grades which are not one year apart you have a recipe for disaster. Throw in that all of the current tests measure only Math, Reading and Science (14% of the teachers instruct these classes) and you get a better picture.

    Getting back to a point I made earlier, what I find most hilarious is that we see the Senate and Governor maneuvering over how to retain $40 million in federal funding when the legislative funding of education is $3.5 billion short.

    If you think about it though, if your attempting to privatize education (as ALEC among others wish to do) this makes perfect sense. What better way to make something look bad then to withhold funding, and hold it to a standard that is unattainable (No Child Left Behind). Really? 100% success rate at all levels given the dynamics of our population? Even if all kids were playing on a level playing field, this still, would be impossible. See, if you make the teacher look bad, you can easily tear down the structure since the guts are removed.

    Throw in that we can hold teachers to another bar, the assessments that don't actually measure annual student growth, and there you have it; ALEC pointing to it and saying oh and here's the proof, standardized tests that support what we are saying teachers are to blame for all of societies problems.

    I have to admit it was a great advertisement campaign they are running. The show to top all shows. Remember though, every advertisement has a clincher. Here's their clincher:

    Here's our solution, (charters schools and voucher programs) it doesn't cost, (though it isn't exactly proven to work better-the part they leave out) as much. What's probably in the fine print though (that you can't read because its written in legal jargon or too small) is that they will raise the cost once their programs are in place because they will be pocketing the profits.

    Posted Sun, Mar 9, 10:25 a.m. Inappropriate

    "why would Inslee support a neo-conservative group?"

    I have no idea. But grading teachers and grading schools is out of the ALEC playbook, and that is what Inslee is still talking about.

    So maybe I have my labels mixed up. But, ALEC, Duncan, and Obama, to name a few, support the corporate takeover of American public education. If Inslee is on that wagon train too, I'm not voting for him.

    Posted Fri, Mar 7, 7:12 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'm gonna give it to this article, my best effort,
    as honestly as I can edit in these next few days,
    to exPlain agin how BERTHA is WRONG.
    Simplification enuf? 4-Ya?

    exclamation point exclamation point
    Seattlers, meh?
    Super-eee-waterfrontee playgroundee,
    over-run with a boulevard car highway,
    and a new dark underpass/bridge
    without designs of human scale.
    Without such, the full design fails
    or falls short all segments. True.
    Drill-Fill SEA-FENCE sub-standard engineering.
    Others recommend and build more sturdy waterfronts,
    bore in mud?
    under buildings?
    NEED I say MORE?
    ForgeT! IT!


    (erk! cutpasted that)


    Posted Sat, Mar 8, 10:47 a.m. Inappropriate

    When there was an initiative effort to tax lattes for schools, the mayor of Seattle - and a number of other electeds and elites - opposed the tax on the grounds that it let the state off the hook for fully funding education. Then, just a couple months later, that same mayor was named and the honorary head of the school levy campaign.

    Our local school levies, like the incessant fundraising, lets the state off the hook for fully funding education and contributes to inequity.

    The answer is not to sacrifice our children on an altar to some misguided effort to symbolize equity; school funding by the PTA is only the tip of the inequity iceberg when it comes to the economic influences on student outcomes. Nor is the answer to vote down local school levies. We're going to have to think a little harder.

    What are the factors that are really preventing the state legislature from fully funding education? What makes any state legislator vote against education funding? Answer that question, and you'll have the place to focus your efforts.

    The answer, I believe, is the faulty belief, fostered by political conservatives, that all taxes are theft, that the government should not provide public resources, and that no one should pay for anything that does not provide an immediate and direct benefit to their narrow self-interest. That perspective is crap and needs to be completely de-bunked. Unfortunately, it has become the central organizing theme of the Republican party.


    Posted Sat, Mar 8, 11:07 a.m. Inappropriate

    I'm not so sure that public support of public education funding would result in adequate funding. The legislature has not met the bar of proving it, despite earlier attempts on the part of the people to do so. I 728 and 732 have been largely ignored and suspended by the legislature. It seems to me that they have other priorities then to meet their oaths which defines that education should be their first priority (duty).

    I am not inclined to believe that either party has set education as a priority. As I mentioned earlier in a reply to toughbretts, the Republican Party seems bent on pushing a reforms agenda that ignores their fiscal responsibility and puts private (ALEC) interests ahead of the voters interests. Likewise, the Democrats have historically, defunded programs at an alarming rate, over the time they have held majorities dating back to the Roosevelt administration.

    Posted Sat, Mar 8, 4:29 p.m. Inappropriate

    Thanks for your comments. I agree with the suggestion that we need to reconsider our system of taxation in WA. Re: fundraising vs. organizing - I am not suggesting that organizing replace fundraising, but rather that organizing be better utilized to hold the legislature accountable. Finally, I think that the degree to which public funding meets the need for same depends on how mobilized WA voters and residents are. Your thoughts?


    Posted Mon, Mar 10, 11:06 p.m. Inappropriate

    Story update: Space camp launches next week.


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