SEATTLE – Washington’s superintendent for public instruction said Friday that lawmakers must find a way to close the gap between school expenses and the money the state provides or Washington will never meet its goal to give every child a world-class education.
In her annual state of education speech, Terry Bergeson commended educators and school districts for the progress they have made in helping more children learn to read, write and do math, but emphasized that the state has gone about as far as it can without more money to help the kids with the most challenges.
“Over the past 12 years, I’ve asked the Legislature for billions of dollars in additional education resources,” Bergeson told the Washington State School Directors Association during the annual meeting of elected school board members. “But there has never been the combination of political will, revenue and consensus on the specifics to address the critical demand on our schools to educate all students to a world-class level.”
Additional money is just half of the equation Bergeson seeks. She also wants a major change in how state education money is distributed.
“Here we are with an outmoded, unbalanced, opaque funding system that causes fights and is difficult for anyone, including legislators, to understand and trust,” she said.
Several education funding lawsuits have helped bring more attention to this issue, but Bergeson said lawmakers should not wait for the courts to tell them what needs to be done.
The 2007 Legislature put together a committee to look at school finance issues. Bergeson wants that group – the Basic Education Task Force – to create a new system for paying for public education.
“The bottom line is that until the gap between state funding and school expenditures is obvious to the most skeptical policy maker and the most skeptical voter, we won’t get a check to cover that gap,” she said.
As one example of the disconnect between education funding and school needs, she told the story of a teacher in an urban school district who was excited about a state grant for technology enhancements, but not for the reason one would expect.
The teacher was glad she was getting a new document camera for her classroom, so she could use it to photograph textbook pages and project them on the wall, since she didn’t have enough textbooks for her students.
Bergeson spoke of her recent trip to Finland for the Schools of the Future Summit and how the closing speaker, Jean-Francois Rischard, the World Bank vice president for Europe, “scared me to death.”
Rischard warns in his book, “High Noon: 20 Global Problems, 20 Years to Solve Them,” that the world must quickly solve such global issues as overpopulation, water shortages and access to affordable health care.
“How are we going to solve these problems at the state and the global level?” Bergeson asked. “Well, we are not going to solve them. The people we need to solve them are in our schools right now.”
Cindy McMullen, president of the school directors association, was cautiously optimistic that lawmakers would find a way to make the changes Bergeson wants.
“I think the Legislature understands the current needs and they understand the public expects support for our public schools and it’s our sincere hope that that will translate to the necessary funding,” McMullen said.