The governor of Washington, Jay Inslee, used his 2016 leap day to sign a new K-12 education bill into law. The new bill is meant to answer the McCleary decision made by the Washington State Supreme Court, which says that the legislature has failed to adequately fund education.
The decision came as a surprise to no one, as education funding in Washington state has been lacking for years. The new bill commits the legislature to readjusting the education budget issues by the end of the legislative period in 2017.
The most difficult part of repairing the education system is figuring out where to start. However, I believe that the legislature should start by fixing the education system where it threatened some of its most vulnerable students.
In Washington state, English Language Learners’ (ELL) needs are not being met by the education system. ELL students often have limited proficiency in English. In an ideal world, ELL programming would include a bilingual education. However, staff qualified to teach ELL and the funds to pay them, are in short supply.
According to a report from the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to the legislature, in the 2009-2010 school year the government didn’t pay for all the students the ELL program had to serve. They missed the mark by about 7,000 students.
Another group of at-risk students of Washington’s current funding practices attend schools in low income areas. Although 70 percent of education budgets are funded by the states, 20 percent come from local area taxes, mostly property taxes. If property values are low in certain areas, the schools in those areas can receive a lot less money than schools in more affluent areas.
The Washington state constitution says “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste or sex.”
However Washington state funding shows a preference for students who are proficient in the English language and live within more affluent areas.
The state so far has failed to live up to the expectation that education is its paramount duty. This new bill may be the first step in repairing a system that has long been broken but the focus of the restructure needs to be on the students who require the most.
The children who could benefit most from the great equalizer of public education need to be given the opportunity to do so. ◼︎