One of the best things about being your state representative is the time I get to spend learning. By listening and observing, I can more effectively advocate for you and your family in the Legislature.
Last fall, I offered to job shadow teachers and staff at each school district in our region. I spent one day each in Finley, Starbuck, Waitsburg, Kennewick, Paterson and Richland. I got to see firsthand how the work we do in Olympia directly impacts the education our students are receiving.
Washington state’s 295 school districts are as diverse as the 1.1 million students we serve. From Pasco’s 19,000 students, to Starbuck’s 29, it is the Legislature’s responsibility to craft a statewide basic education program that works well for all students across the state.
The Legislature has created programs that are working well throughout our district, but there is still work to be done in many areas. Special education funding, school nurse funding, access to counselors, and transportation challenges, are just a few areas that still need attention.
However, I want to discuss a few additional issues here, starting with school meals. Breakfast After the Bell is a new program that allows students to eat a nutritious breakfast in the classroom, once school has already started.
I got to see firsthand the success and positive impact this program has on students. Studies show that when students have better access to breakfast, their participation in class activities increases, which is linked to improved academic scores, reduced disruptive behavior, and reduced rates of absence and tardiness.
This year I co-sponsored House Bill 2660 to expand access to no-cost school meals by maximizing available federal funds.
Another program offered by the state that benefits our schools is the high poverty Learning Assistance Program. This program provides remediation assistance to students who are not meeting standards in reading, math and language arts.
I had the opportunity to sit in on a LAP-funded reading class, which consisted of a teacher student ratio of about one to six. This class provided intensive instruction to bring students up to grade level reading.
One of the challenges with the high poverty LAP is how the funding is driven out by school building, rather than by student or district. If more than 50 percent of the students in a school qualify for free or reduced lunch, the school gets the LAP funding — any school under 50 percent does not. A sliding scale to drive funding out proportionately is an idea I am exploring.
In general, state basic education funding is generated by formulas and is for allocation purposes only.
This means districts usually have a lot of flexibility in how they staff their classrooms and deploy resources. It also means that funding for a particular position doesn’t necessarily have to be used to fund that position.
The funding model is intended to illustrate the level of resources necessary to operate a “typical” school, however, the model works better for large districts that can move personnel around and take advantage of economies of scale. For small schools, often times only fractions of positions are funded.
It was helpful to see firsthand how this funding model does and doesn’t work for our smaller districts. My biggest take away from my visits was that even after the McCleary case, education funding still needs work — we need to find better funding solutions to create equity for all students.
Lastly, I want to thank all the teachers, paraeducators, administrators and staff in each school throughout the 16th District for the amazing job they are doing educating and preparing our kids to be successful in their futures.
The level of dedication and passion I saw was impressive and inspiring.