As most of our public schools started last week, the effects of COVID-19 on our education system are more apparent than ever. Families are struggling to work through new technological barriers and child care, educators are working even harder, and children are struggling.
However, what situation would our public schools be in today had the Legislature not fulfilled its constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education according to the landmark 2012 McCleary decision?
Without meeting the requirement of the McCleary Decision, our public schools would have $4 billion or $3,500 per student less in funding. What would this mean for students?
It would mean no all-day kindergarten. It would mean $101 million less for education for students with disabilities and $222 million less for supplemental instruction and services for students living in poverty and less resources for transportation.
It would mean less support for counseling services, career and technical education programs, and highly capable programs. It would have meant three less days of professional development for teachers. It would have made access to technology, laptops and the internet even more challenging.
Our public school educators, administrators and staff have been working hard to quickly make changes to ensure our students learn. However, if not for the McCleary decision and the Legislature’s commitment to fully funding basic education, our children would undoubtedly be in a significantly worse position during the pandemic and their prospects of a fair shot at economic opportunity would be worse.
During my campaign for state representative, I’ve talked with thousands of people in the 6th Legislative District. Over and over again, parents tell me their concerns about their students’ education, their futures and their needs for child care as working parents.
I’ve heard from a mom whose child has autism and their struggles in receiving continuous itinerant services. I’ve heard from parents who worry their children in highly capable programs are not being challenged. I’ve heard from parents whose internet is not strong enough for streaming classes for everyone in their house.
I’ve also talked with fellow educators. Many say that they are working harder than ever before, waking up at 4 a.m. and working until 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. to make sure all their students are learning.
At the same time, it’s disheartening to see local elected officials who are not supporting our educators, schools, students, and families. Spokane County Treasurer Michael Baumgartner is calling for teachers’ pay to be cut back to pre-McCleary days.
Many local officials such as deputy treasurer and my opponent, Rep. Mike Volz, voted against fully funding basic education and the McCleary fix when given the chance in 2017 and again in 2018. While my opponent could not have predicted the bizarre circumstances families are finding themselves in right now, he certainly did not vote to meet our constitutional obligation to fund our schools.
We need representatives who will fight to make sure that our schools and our community receive the resources we need to be successful, especially in the case of a catastrophe.
To ensure that all students have a fair shot, we need to meet the growing needs of our schools with additional mental health services and counselors, technology and internet investment, and career and technical education because we know all students don’t need to attend college. If we did not have the McCleary fix funding in place today, our schools would be ill-equipped to handle this crisis, setting our students even farther behind.
As you think about the tough task of balancing next year’s state education budget, ask yourself: If an elected official voted against your schools back when times were easier, do you trust them to stand up for your schools when times are tough?
Zack Zappone is an educator, policy analyst and candidate for state representative in the 6th Legislative District.
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