Public Education in Washington State

This is a bit off topic for me, but it is an important thing to get out there nevertheless. I love living in Washington State. It may be snowing as I write this, but in general, I really like this state, the lifestyle, the people, and our wonderful natural environment. I've lived on both coasts of the US, twice, and in the middle, and in Europe, twice, and I like this place best of all.

There is, however, a significant downside to this state, one which has gotten worse in recent years: public education. Washington State, home to many companies needing highly educated talent, like Microsoft,, Boeing, Real Networks, F5 Technologies, Safeco Insurance, Washington Mutual, etc, has a public education crisis. Spending per student in this state ranks 42nd in the nation, just below Alabama! (Note, some studies have it ranking from 32nd to 46th, depending on the year and the methodology used).

The upshot of this is that our schools are in a crisis. At this very moment, the school board in the district where I live are just waiting for May 13, when they can finally acknowledge their decision to close one of the elementary schools in our town. This will result in shuffling 800 students around, away from their friends. My kids will be bused past two schools, including the one about three quarters of a mile from our house where they currently go, to a school over four miles away. And I moved here because of the school and because I did not want my kids to have to go through any more changes of school than absolutely necessary. In addition, this action will result in moving the Spanish dual language program away from the school where there are actually students that need it, to a school over a mile away from any public transportation. This may not be intuitively obvious, but many of the parents of the children who need dual language education have no cars at all, or one at best, and really rely on public transportation. All in all, they are shuffling 800 children away from their neighborhood schools and dispersing them throughout a 75 square mile area, away from their neighborhoods, their friends, and the teachers they have learned to love and trust. All of this because of the combined double-whammy of the states complete failure in its responsibility to its children and all the various unfunded mandates that the federal government has imposed upon local schools.

The second-most ironic part of all? The affected area is serviced by state senators Eric Oemig, a member of the "Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee" and Rosemary McAuliffe, the chair of that same committee. If the two senators have failed/neglected to fix school funding problems in their own districts, then something is really rotten in Washington State. Well, maybe the irony there is matched by the fact that Governor Gregoire's second highest priority is education. Note the complete lack (save for the creation of a committee to study the problem) of any action on her part to improve general education funding in the past 18 months. I guess we should be happy that she at least invited "Happy Feet Fans" to trick or treat in the governor's mansion – clearly a worthy achievement in education.

So, what is the most ironic part? It is this paragraph, taken from the Washington State Constitution:
“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.”
Washington Constitution, article IX, section I

As the 2007 Citizen's Guide to Washington State K-12 Finance correctly points out: "This constitutional provision is unique to Washington. While other states have constitutional provisions related to education, no other state makes K-12 education the “paramount duty” of the state."

I'm starting to wonder whether the word "ample" has a special meaning to politicians?

In light of all this, I found this letter, which Nancy Hill, another parent in the district, just sent to USA Today, quite poignant. If you are considering a job offer from one of the companies I mentioned earlier, you may want to bargain for a supplement to cover private school tuition:

Washington State's Dirty Little Secret:  Public Schools

Considering a move to Washington State?  The state certainly looks appealing.  While Washington State is bucking national trends in regard to job creation and home values, we have one dirty little secret that many people want to keep buried.  If you are planning a move to the Seattle area, you will find that high paying job, your home probably will retain its value, but you better budget in about $25,000 per child for private education.

Consider this…  Mr. Gates found it easier to ask Congress to grant more international work visas than improve public education in his own state.  All of those employees roaming the corridors of Microsoft… good thing most of them received an education elsewhere and they should not expect Mr. Gates to hire their Washington State educated children.

Simply stated, Washington State school districts are too large and our state funding is antiquated.

Washington State ranks 46th in the nation in terms of class size. Another fun Washington State education fact: Per-pupil expenditures as a percentage of per capita income was only 21.8%, ranking the state 45th nationally. Washington has the12th highest personal income per capita in the nation.

Your child's "Chance for Success" ranking in the state of Washington is 22nd.  (SOURCE: Quality Counts 2007:From Cradle to Career Tennessee 40.0 -2 30.0 -2 42.5 -2 68.3 +2 -14 45Editorial Projects in Education Research Center,2007.)

So yes, Washington State can offer you a great job, a home that will retain its value, great air quality and recreation.  But please don't expect your child to receive a great public education in Washington State. It seems that our state government really doesn't care.


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