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. 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. The data is very clear that our students need to be prepared for education beyond high school. We have already added $4 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. 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, we still have an unacceptable dropout rate of around 15%. My single biggest priority as your Superintendent will be a laser-focus on improving our graduation rate even further. Every student that drops out or is pushed out of our schools loses an average of $370,000 in lifetime earnings compared to a high school completer. These folks 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. As we face this challenge together, the first thing we must be committed to together is keeping those students who want to stay, who want to work, who want a bright future. 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. In my first term, we delinked high stakes tests from graduation and we replaced them with more appropriate graduation pathways. We honor career and technical education equally with traditional academic learning. Over the next four years, we will fully build out career-connected learning opportunities for any student who wants a pathway to economic sustainability.
The Opportunity Gap
For too long, we used the phrase achievement gap to describe the persistent difference in academic achievement between Caucasian students and students of color. The raw truth is we have an opportunity gap that results in an achievement gap. Our failure to address inequitable resources in our communities leads to the opportunity gap. Native students, African-American students, Hispanic students, and a host of other students of color are systemically discriminated against in the way we fund schools, our inability to address poverty, and our discipline policies. We cannot approach 100% graduation rates until we take a more sincere, more persistent, and more honest approach to how we connect our communities of color with our public education system. Our communities of color deserve a fully funded education system that does not reward property rich school districts while heavily taxing property poor districts. Students of color deserve school boards that are as diverse as their communities, administrators as diverse as their schools, and teachers as diverse as their classrooms. State resources must be targeted beyond formula funds to schools that need additional support. Our data systems must drill down to understand the disproportionate impacts of our education policies.
As your State Superintendent, I have diversified the OSPI staff and we have created a policy framework for the organization 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 moving our communities to a greater passion about their public schools and the expectations of all students.
We cannot have excellent schools without excellent educators. I was the benefactor of outstanding teachers growing up. I believe in my heart that our educators have only gotten better! They are more data driven, more individual student focused, and our teacher preparation programs are now better 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 24% since I became Superintendent, and we aren’t done yet!
Our best and brightest need to see teaching as a career of first choice even as they are being courted by Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Boeing, and others. This means identifying talent, recruiting that talent, challenging them with robust prep programs, market-rate compensation and persistent high-quality job-embedded professional development.
It is an honor and a massive responsibility to teach in our public schools. As citizens, parents, and taxpayers we should have high expectations of our teachers AND a willingness to compensate them as necessary to attract the most diverse, high-quality, committed teaching core our state has ever seen. We have an incredible new opportunity to recognize excellent teaching and support those that need growth. I will continue to partner with the Legislature to ensure that fully funding our schools also means fully funding educator compensation, teacher recruitment, and professional development.
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 substantial money every year. Running Start alone saves families in our state over $100 million. Students complete their college degrees sooner and pay less tuition once they attend a college or university.
As Superintendent, I will develop a comprehensive policy to ensure that every student that is willing to work hard to achieve college credit while in high school can do so at an area college, in their home high school, or online. Dual credit programs save families money, but they still come with costs and we need to eliminate these costs as a barrier to families.
Recommitting to Career and Technical Education
Our world is becoming more complex, more technical, and more specialized. Yet, over the past 20 years, we saw 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 in 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 style 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.
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 still needs geometry, the welder still needs chemistry. I will work 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.
High Standards with Local Control
Perhaps the greatest failure of the last two presidential administrations has been their overzealous efforts to control states’ education systems from the federal level. I have been an outspoken voice to ensure that Washington State citizens are in control of Washington State’s education system and that locally elected school boards and local communities remain in charge of local schools. 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 all of the means by which student achievement occurs. States should control their own curriculum policies, course options, graduation requirements, student assessment systems, 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. I will continue to be an active voice at the national level for minimal federal intrusion into our schools.
We have been a national leader in the research and program development for early learning. The remarkable impact to student achievement that is realized by early learning success, is invaluable to student equity and the long-term success of our state. We partner in this work with our lead agency for early learning, 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 ECEAP programs. I am committed, along with our partners, to create more efficiency, less regulation, and overall better outcomes for our early learning programs. I will also advance budget requests that ensure every child in Washington has a high-quality early learning experience in their community.
Washington State has an inequitable approach to funding school facilities. We rely on an anti-democratic 60% supermajority for local bond votes, and only then do districts qualify for state matching funds. This is a remarkable disadvantage for rural and property poor communities. In my first four years, we have grown the Capital Budget to a record high; we have added rural grants, seismic retrofits, and mitigation funds for water fixtures that may be impacted by lead contamination. We can do more! I am developing a Capital Budget request that delivers basic, but essential, learning spaces to every community. The value of properties in your community should not be a barrier to high-quality learning spaces!