Fully Funding Basic Education
Our state constitution makes it abundantly clear that the paramount duty of the State of Washington is fully funding our public schools. This obligation has grown more serious as the global economy has compelled us to reach higher. An 8th grade education was the standard 100 years ago (my parents only completed education through the eighth grade). Even a few decades ago you could find solid work in manufacturing, agriculture, and a host of other career fields with a high school diploma and no additional formal training. The data is clear that our students need to be prepared for education beyond high school. We have already added $5 billion per year to our schools to shore up our current education model. Sadly, this model was created decades ago and it fails to meet today’s obligation for more student supports such as career guidance, mental health, school safety, and other emerging issues in the American experience. In fact, just four years ago, our K-12 system was 51% of our state budget, but has once again fallen to less than 44%. I am prepared to work as hard as it takes to ensure all of our kids have affordable access to community colleges, universities, technical colleges, apprenticeships, military service, or a host of on-the-job training opportunities. We don’t need every student in a one size fits all pathway, but we do need every student to get the support they need to explore their passion and to be prepared to pursue education and training beyond high school.
High School Completion
We cannot achieve our highest ideals as a state until we make a commitment to get 100% of our students graduated from high school with a high-quality diploma. I am proud that we have achieved a record high graduation rate for our state, even as our students have taken more rigorous coursework. Unfortunately, 15% of our students still do not earn their high school diploma. My single biggest priority as your Superintendent will be improving our graduation rate even further. Every student that drops out or is pushed out of our schools loses an average of $400,000 in lifetime earnings compared to a high school completer. Without a high school diploma, not only do these students face more challenges in life than their peers, they are much more likely to depend on taxpayer services in the form of food assistance, emergency medical support, criminal justice resources, and sadly a much higher incarceration rate. I am a strong believer in high expectations of each of our students, and they deserve multiple ways to demonstrate their proficiency, their ability, and their passion. Our economy needs all kinds of talent, and our students deserve multiple pathways to success. I led the charge in delinking high-stakes tests from graduation, and we replaced them with more appropriate graduation pathways. We honor career and technical education equally with more “traditional” academic learning. Over the next four years, we will fully build out our graduation pathways and give all students a jump start on careers, training, and college while they are in high school with ZERO out-of-pocket costs.
For too long, we used the phrase “achievement gap” to describe persistent differences in academic achievement across student groups. While we are closing graduation gaps faster than any time in our history, we still have opportunity gaps that result in achievement gaps – not every student is resourced equitably or supported equally. We can achieve a 100% graduation rate if we take a more sincere, more persistent, and more honest approach to how we fund our schools and support our students. All students and communities deserve a fully funded education system that recognizes that not all communities are the same. Our students deserve to experience teachers, administrators, and school boards that are as diverse as they are. We have made substantial progress on increasing the racial diversity of our educators over the last six years, particularly among our beginning teachers, but we have much more work to do before our educators will truly be reflective of the students they serve. In addition, for too long, our state has underinvested in services for our students with disabilities, and we have done all students a disservice by supporting the learning of our students with disabilities in environments separate from their peers. We are changing this! We are rapidly moving toward full funding of services for our students, and our work around inclusionary practices has gained national attention. Our state resources must be targeted beyond formula funds to schools and students that would benefit from additional support. Our data systems are now drilling down to expose the disproportionate impacts of our education funding policies, and we are making changes to the way we resource our schools.
As your State Superintendent, I have diversified the OSPI staff and we have created a policy framework that embeds solutions to the opportunity gap in everything we do! Not a single policy is promoted from my office that does not fully examine the impact on our diverse communities. From policy development, to grant funds, to professional development for our school districts and regional educational service districts; everything OSPI does to approach 100% graduation rates has an acute eye to the populations that have been systemically denied opportunity in our past and still today. And we have improved graduation rates faster for these targeted student groups, but there is more to be done! Embracing diversity is not an exercise in being color blind. Quite the opposite; it is absolutely about seeing race, seeing diversity, having crucial conversations, and strategically investing in our communities to cultivate a greater passion about our public schools and to set high expectations for all students.
We cannot have excellent schools without excellent educators. I was the benefactor of outstanding teachers growing up. Our educators have only gotten better! They are more data driven, more student focused, and our teacher preparation programs have expanded to more equitable pipelines, even as those programs have focused on research-based teaching, learning, and assessment techniques. Sadly, our educator pay, relative to the growth in pay for similarly educated professionals in our society, was falling desperately behind. We changed that! Average teacher pay has increased by 42% since I became superintendent, and we aren’t done yet! Equitable pay not only encourages young people to become teachers, but it honors our current professionals, and ultimately results in a dignified retirement after a career of supporting students and families.
Our best and brightest need to see teaching as a career of first choice even as they are being courted by some of the highest paid industries in the United States. This means identifying talent, recruiting that talent, challenging them with robust prep programs, market-rate compensation, and persistent high-quality job-embedded professional development. Yes, teachers love their students and they hold sacred their public service, but compensation, respect, and professional support MUST complement their passion for the teaching and learning process.
I will continue to partner with the Legislature to ensure that fully funding our schools also means fully compensating all of our public educators, and I define that broadly – teachers, para-educators, bus drivers, food service workers, principals, professional support staff, and every single job in our public schools.
Expanding Dual Credit Options
In our state, we are a national leader in offering college credit to students while they are in high school. Running Start, College in the High School, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and a host of other programs empower students to use their precious time to achieve college credit while also earning high school credit. These dual credit programs save families and taxpayers a substantial amount of money every year – Running Start alone saves families in our state over $100 million per year. With these programs, students complete their college degrees sooner and pay less tuition once they attend a college or university.
As Superintendent, I have been leading the charge to eliminate ALL out-of-pocket fees for students taking college credit while in high school. Just this last year, we eliminated all fees associated with College in the High School – up next, zero fees for Running Start!
Expanding Career and Technical Education (CTE)
Our world is becoming more complex, more technical, and more specialized. Yet, over the last twenty years, we have seen a steady deterioration of technical education programs in our schools. You and I had the benefit of wood shops, metal shops, and a host of other technical options. Sadly, we made a mistake as a nation believing that these were no longer necessary. This has narrowed the offerings of our high schools. It has forced too many kids into traditional lecture and listen courses when their learning preference is often more hands-on. This has taken a toll, especially among our young men who drop out at substantially higher rates. We must keep building 21st century career and technical education programs for our students as a powerful pathway to the workforce. Even our students are telling us this – two-thirds of high school students surveyed questioned how relevant their classwork is to their long-term interests. One-size fits all hasn’t worked for twenty years, and we need to return more course taking decisions to students and their families – more credit flexibility while in high school, more CTE course options, and more industry credentials earned in high school.
As Superintendent, I have helped our state turn the corner on this. CTE programs are on the rise, as early as middle school, and we now honor graduation pathways through technical fields. We are not done! I will work tirelessly to ensure that every student has a pathway to graduation. This does not mean lower standards – the carpenter needs geometry, the welder needs chemistry, the computer scientist needs algebra, and nursing assistant needs anatomy. We know how to embed critical thinking and core subjects into industry pathways, we need policymakers to embrace the high school credit flexibility students need to succeed.
Expanding CTE also means having the right capital facilities. We have worked hard to restore capital budget funds to ensure our schools and skills centers have the highest quality programs and equipment to meet the needs of tomorrow’s workforce. Over the next four years it will be critical that every district has the resources they need to build, renovate, and maintain the physical spaces they need locally, or regionally, to expand their CTE programs.
High Standards with Local Control
The greatest failure of the federal government over the last 40 years has been an inappropriate attempt to control local schools from Washington, D.C. while simultaneously shrinking the federal investment in public education. D.C. wants more control with less dollars – NO! I have been an outspoken voice to ensure that Washington State’s taxpayers are in control of Washington State’s education system; it’s state constitutions across the nation that describe each state’s approach to education. In our state, public education is the highest, most important function of state government. We carry out our state system of funding and policy by empowering locally elected school boards and local communities to determine the details of our paramount duty, one community at a time. Congress has every right to demand high standards across the states, but to remain constitutionally sound and to further innovate public education, states need to control the policies by which student achievement occurs, and local school boards should be able to localize state standards to address their unique needs. In partnership with local school boards, states should have the authority to control their curriculum policies, course options, graduation requirements, state assessments, and teacher evaluation systems. The federal government should set high expectations and help us to fund our essential civil rights mission, but the states need to control the path to success.
High-quality early learning sets the foundation for a strong entry to kindergarten and long-term success in school, ultimately benefiting our students and our state in countless ways. Washington has been a national leader in research and program development for early learning. At OSPI, we partner in this work with the Department of Children, Youth, and Families, and they provide outstanding frameworks for student health, safety, and academic success. Our K-12 school districts are the largest providers of Head Start and Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) programs. I am committed, along with our partners, to create more efficiency, less regulation, and overall better outcomes for our early learning programs.
During my time as your State Superintendent, my office has led the way in early screening of 4-year-olds, so we can provide high quality programing BEFORE they become a struggling kindergarten student. These efforts have made a difference, and our data show that these critical pre-kindergarten supports are closing opportunity gaps in meaningful ways. Early learning needs to become a universal basic education right, and I will work hard to keep building the policy and budget steps necessary to support our youngest learners and their families in every county in this state!
Washington State has a deeply inequitable approach to funding school buildings and facilities, and our students pay the price by learning in buildings that are overcrowded, are behind on health and safety repairs, or are in need of modernization to keep up with evolving learning and teaching needs. Our state relies on an anti-democratic 60% supermajority for local bond votes, and only then do districts qualify for the state matching funds that they need for critical building repairs or replacements. This is a remarkable disadvantage for our rural communities and those who are not able to raise as much locally as districts in wealthier areas.
In my tenure as Superintendent, we have grown the Capital Budget to a record high for our rural communities. We have added rural grants, seismic retrofits, and mitigation funds where there is a risk to water from Lead contamination. We can do more! Washington State’s Capital Budget should reflect our public education values, by focusing more resources on school facilities, starting with air quality and water quality retrofits in every community across the state. The value of properties in your community should not be a barrier to safe, healthy, and high-quality learning spaces!
Decades of research reinforce that our students cannot learn when they are hungry. In my time as Superintendent, we have made free breakfast and/or lunch available to 465,000 more students. In most countries in the world, access to meals while at school is just part of basic education. It doesn’t mean every student and family wants or needs a meal, it means that it’s there for them if they need it. I will keep advancing budget requests every year until the Legislature ensures that every student who wants or needs breakfast or lunch gets it at no cost to the student or their family. This is the right thing to do for learning, and it would save thousands of dollars for our families. A family with a household income of $51,000 per year with two students in school spends about $2,330 out-of-pocket per year for school meals, totaling over $30,000 over that family’s total public school years. As income inequality and food inflation continue to erode the financial health of many families, universal access to meals is a powerful way to enhance student learning and provide essential financial support to Washington families with school-aged children.
Dual Language Expansion
When our students are given the opportunity to become bilingual learners starting in kindergarten, they thrive! Not only do they master two languages, but they excel in their other content areas. Dual language opens the doors to future opportunities and it honors the diverse cultures and languages spoken in Washington and around the world. To give our students the best chance at future success, every family deserves the choice of learning in a dual-language model.
As Superintendent, I have prioritized dual language and now we have over 50 school districts providing this opportunity for their students and families. I will keep pushing the Legislature and our school districts to fund these programs until every family has the choice no matter where they live.