― Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle
The subtext of the leadership issues Westneat identified in his column is the apparent lack of political will related to taxes. The chart in Figure 1 produced by OSPI, shows how that has impacted Washington’s standing among the states in relation to one measure, funding per student. The difference between the NCES and Quality Counts lines is that the later data from Education Week adjusts expenditures for cost of living differences between the states.
It may come as little surprise that Washington is near the bottom of the barrel in most of these comparisons. In the summary below, I’ve provided the five-year trend of Washington’s Report Card rankings in some of the key indicators used in the report.
This indicator is a highpoint for Washington in the 2016 Report Card. It compares the number of teachers per 100 students in high and low poverty districts.
This factor measures the enrollment rates of low income 3 and 4 year-olds in preschool as compared with the state’s overall enrollment rate. Such early access to learning is the best way to help students living in poverty catch up with their peers before entering kindergarten. Once again, Washington is at the bottom of the barrel. Given the ranking of 51 in two of those years, it should be noted that Washington D.C. is included in this data.
Given the teacher shortage crisis facing our state, this is a very important indicator. It compares teachers’ salaries to the salaries of other professionals in the same labor market and of similar age, degree level, and hours worked. The aggregate measure includes separate comparisons of teachers at age 25 and 45.
This is an indicator that I calculated using the data provided in the report. It is based on the Per Capita Gross State Product reflected in 2009 dollars. Based on that measure, Washington has one of the top economies in the nation. Because of that capacity, one might expect relatively strong support for our public schools.
This indicator explains all of the other embarrassing rankings listed above. It measures how well the state uses its economic capacity in support of public schools. The indicator is an indirect measure of the preoccupation of our citizens and politicians over the past few decades in making lower taxes the highest priority for the state.
Will our claim to fame be quality schools or the continued strangling of government services created by a declining tax burden? Will we return the state’s education system to its former high ranking within the nation, or will we accept a second-class education that doesn’t support students who come to school without the advantages of more affluent children? Washington’s citizens face a critical historic juncture in the coming years. Regardless of the direction they choose, my hope is that it is based on the kind of solid facts provided above rather than the simplistic catch phrases that characterize much of the current political discourse.