By Jody Mull
When it comes to reimagining our state’s public schools, we are at a pivotal moment. Washingtonians have the opportunity to bring fundamental and much-needed change to our education system.
We have this opportunity thanks to the decision reached by the Washington Supreme Court in McCleary v. State of Washington. In this landmark case, the court found that the state had failed its basic duty to provide adequate funding for our schools. It directed our legislative leaders to find a fix and ensure a fair and equitable distribution of school funding.
The need for a fix is clear to anyone who cares to look. Twenty percent of Washington’s high school students — one out of every five — never finish high school. African American and Latino kids from low-income households have an even harder time — over 30 percent of these students never graduate. Frankly, I find it outrageous that so many Washington children don’t get a high school diploma. I believe that our legislators should feel a sense of urgency to address this problem too.
Results like these fail our kids. Children are not learning to their full potential or being given an equal opportunity to put their talents to use.
These results fail our state too. Of the 80 percent of all Washington students who do graduate, only 31 percent go on to attain any kind of post-graduate certificate or degree. We need an educated, diverse workforce that is ready for the careers of the future. If we don’t achieve that goal, we put Washington’s prosperity at risk.
And these results fail us as well. In Washington, we invest billions of dollars each biennium so that all our children have access to high quality education. Yet, 20 percent fall between the cracks and fail to graduate.
The chance to put our students, our schools and our state on a different path is the reason I support the Campaign for Student Success and their work to ensure education funding is based on the needs of the students, not adults.
This campaign is being spearheaded by a broad 35-member coalition of education advocacy organizations, business leaders and equity organizations. They have come together to engage people across the state in an effort to take full advantage of the opportunity presented by McCleary.
The campaign starts with the idea that real progress isn’t just a question of more money. The system we have now is unequal and unfair. So we cannot just pour new money in and expect different results.
Such a policy vision starts with fair funding. We need a system that will ensure that our education dollars are distributed equitably and fairly. What does this mean? It means that we spend our money so that every child gets an equal chance at success. This must include providing more funding and resources for low-income students, students who are learning English, homeless and foster students.
Our elected leaders in Olympia need to hear our concerns so that they can continue to champion a more equitable system of education for all kids. They need to understand that we are no longer content with a system that shortchanges our students, allows the achievement gap to grow, and lets our state fall further behind. They need to understand that we are looking to them to put children first in their legislative work.