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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Vange M. Ocasio Hochheimer: Education key, but state funds lag

Vange M. Ocasio Hochheimer

As parents of young children, my husband, Manny Hochheimer, and I have big dreams for our young boys.

For our family, those dreams begin with making sure that our children receive the best education they can.

We knew that we were making the right decision when we relocated four years ago to Spokane from Denver. We discovered a community rich with education, civic and business institutions, and leaders committed to students and their learning. These leaders understand that a high-quality education system is critical to ensuring a strong home-grown regional workforce and state economy.

Spokane is doing well by our students. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for our state.

For nearly four decades, Washington’s policymakers have spent much time, money and intellectual capital trying to overhaul our state’s education funding system – task forces, studies, work groups, legislative efforts – and yet we lack a plan for ample, equitable and stable funding.

In addition, our definition of “basic education” – what the state is supposed to pay for – doesn’t go far enough to prepare our kids for college or career.

In 2012, the Washington Supreme Court found that the state was violating its constitutional obligation to amply fund basic education in McCleary v. State of Washington. Lawmakers were given a 2018 deadline to fix how we fund education in our state. The recent passage of Initiative 1351, to lower K–12 class sizes statewide, magnifies the intense pressure on the Legislature to determine a viable funding plan for public education. Though the 2018 deadline looms, the court found the Legislature in contempt of court last fall, giving lawmakers until the end of the current 2015 legislative session to make significant progress on a funding plan.

This accelerated time frame provides a unique opportunity to reflect on what our kids really need from our public education system to succeed.

As a board member of the League of Education Voters, a statewide education advocacy nonprofit, I believe a student’s education should be a continuum with seamless transitions. The League of Education’s vision, “A Way Forward,” calls for a new definition of basic education that includes early learning, strategic investments in K–12 education, and at least two years of postsecondary education.

While some may suggest that this definition is more than we can afford, I believe that we can’t afford not to make this investment. Too many students, particularly low-income kids, arrive at kindergarten already behind. At the other end of the education spectrum, all data point to the need for a postsecondary degree or certificate in preparation for the jobs of today and tomorrow.

Last year, the Spokane School Board and Superintendent Shelley Redinger launched the district’s T-2-4 goal of preparing all Spokane students to successfully complete some form of higher education – whether that is at a technical, 2-year or 4-year higher education institution. Over 40 community-based organizations and higher education institutions are working with the district to make this goal a reality for each Spokane student.

Our community understands that in order to graduate students prepared for the jobs of today and tomorrow, we must offer our students a high-quality education continuum – from early learning through higher education.

Vange M. Ocasio Hochheimer is an assistant professor of economics at Whitworth University and a board member at the League of Education Voters.