long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction.
- John F. Kennedy
Washington Learns was one of our more significant education studies conducted in recent years. Hundreds of hours were spent by those involved during the 16 month-review. Washington Learns was created by the Legislature in 2005 and Gov. Gregoire personally convened the 13-member steering committee that involved 75 citizens on three advisory committees. Their final report was submitted in November 2006 with great fanfare and optimism.
Since this month marks the 10th anniversary of Washington Learns, it seems worth reviewing what impact, if any, it had on Washington’s education system. To do that, we will utilize one of the recommendation from that report to benchmark Washington’s progress against seven other states referred to as the Global Challenge States (GCS). The final report provided the following rationale for that approach:
The data in Figure 1 shows how Washington currently compares with the GCS in that area, as well as our national rank. This information is from a 2016 report entitled Is School Funding Fair, published by the Rutgers University Education Law Center. Based on this data, Washington hasn’t made any progress in this area in relation to the GCS, and we’re near the bottom when compared with the nation.
Washington Learns also compared each state's support for K-12 education using the average expenditure per student as their metric. At the time of that report, Washington was seventh among the group of eight states. The data in Figure 4 shows how Washington compares 2013, the most current year national data is available. This report was extracted from the Education Counts website and it adjusts expenditures based on each state’s cost of living. In this measure Washington has moved up one spot among the comparison states and was 39th in the nation.
Student teacher ratios is the final comparison of K-12 inputs. Ten years ago, Washington was seventh among the eight comparison states in that measure. The data in the following tables comes from an Educational Testing Service report, Minding the Gap. Figure 5 shows the number of teachers per 100 students back in 1993. At that time, we were sixth among the eight comparison states and 24th in the nation. It’s interesting to note this was just prior to the implementation of Washington’s Essential Academic Learning Requirements and the Washington Assessment of Student Learning, which were designed for both student and system accountability. One might assume that with the implementation of such significant education reforms, more staff would have been assigned to schools to insure a successful implementation.
The table in Figure 7 offers some comparative data on how over-burdened our economy is with taxes. It shows the GCS and national ranking of states in their education funding effort. This data comes from the 2016 Is Funding Fair annual report. They explain the effort index as follows:
The Effort index takes into account each state’s local and state spending on education in relation to the state’s economic productivity, or gross state product (GSP). Combining these two elements into a ratio provides a sense of the priority education is given in state and local budgets.
Based on this 2013 information, all but one of the Global Challenge states, and 45 of all states are putting forth a greater effort than Washington does in funding schools.
It is time for bold, purposeful action. It is time to make some big changes to Washington’s education system. It’s time to make the hopes and dreams of our children a reality. It is time to get to work.
Let’s hope that 2017 Legislature is more willing and able to address this challenge than the ones that proceeded it. Let’s hope the 2017 Legislature is ready to get to work.