Opinion editorial by Rep. Brandon Vick: Addressing obligation to fund education off to a good start, but more room for improvement

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As a newly appointed member to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, I was eager to confront the obstacles facing parents, students, teachers and schools in our community. One of the largest considerations our public schools face is the 2012 McCleary vs. Washington state ruling by the Washington State Supreme Court. Since the McCleary decision, there has been substantial debate surrounding the implementation of the ruling. The Legislature has made significant strides but more are needed to address our constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education, improve student outcomes and better support educators.

I am happy to report that an additional $1.6 billion in K-12 education investment was made in the 2013-15 operating budget. It is important that we find stable funding sources and implement innovative solutions to continue the momentum. It is appropriate for our state to add education dollars but, in so doing, we must also be accountable for each dollar and attempt to alleviate local tax burdens in a responsible manner.

During the past month, I have toured school districts within the 18th Legislative District to see firsthand what's happening at the ground level in our schools. So far, I've visited 39 schools – 19 elementary schools, 10 middle schools, nine high schools and River HomeLink.

Here's what I've heard:

  • Funding is a major concern, as schools look to offer their students more opportunities to succeed. It should be the Legislature's top priority to make our state healthy and productive for future generations;
  • Class-size reductions are in order so teachers can foster more productive learning environments for students and give them the attention they need, said Thomas Adams, principal of Thomas Jefferson Middle School; and
  • There's not a one-size-fits-all solution to schools. Every district has different needs and must have the flexibility to allocate dollars to best serve their schools. A successful program in Seattle may not work for our schools in Camas or Washougal.

In addition to the feedback above, I've noticed that what's expected of our students has changed and our teachers have risen to the challenge. Programs have become much more diverse and skill-focused, like our Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs. Classes like “woodshop” have advanced into subjects like furniture construction or even electric guitar manufacturing. Metal shops are using modern equipment so students enter the workforce with the skills necessary to compete for family-wage jobs.

Things have certainly changed since I was in school!

While all districts have their unique challenges, I was honored to meet with many teachers and administrators who do great work on behalf of our students. I appreciated hearing from teachers about the daily struggles they face and what makes their students successful, rather than the few paid voices in Olympia. This has provided me with valuable insight I need to meet these issues head-on as we prepare for the 2015 legislative session.

It's important to remember that McCleary is not just about money. It's about improving student outcomes, developing innovative solutions to transform our school systems and to support everyone involved in our children's education. We were able to pass a few measures during the 2013-14 sessions that focus on outcomes-based solutions.

A full list of K-12-related bills the Legislature passed this session can be viewed here:

http://www.leg.wa.gov/House/Committees/Documents/sinedie2013.pdf (2013) and http://www.leg.wa.gov/LIC/Documents/Statistical%20Reports/2014%20BILLS%20PASSED%20THE%20LEGISLATURE.pdf (2014).

Again, we're off to a great start! In order to meet our obligation to fully fund basic education, the Legislature needs to take the constitutional responsibility seriously and fund education needs before any other budgetary measure. We also need to improve our public school expenditure transparency as well as give school districts more freedom and flexibility to direct money where it is needed most.

Government cannot work effectively without your help. If you have ideas, suggestions or solutions when it comes to funding our schools or helping our students, teachers and administrative staff succeed, please don't hesitate to share those with me. To reach me, call 360-786-7850 or 360-210-7070, or e-mail me at brandon.vick@leg.wa.gov.

It's an honor to serve you.

Rep. Brandon Vick, R-Felida, is serving his first term representing the 18th Legislative District. He serves on six House committees, including Appropriations; Appropriations Subcommittee on Education; Business and Financial Services, on which he is the Assistant Ranking Republican; Finance; Government Accountability and Oversight; and Technology and Economic Development. For more information, visit: https://houserepublicans.wa.gov/brandon-vick/

State Representative Brandon Vick, 18th Legislative District
465 John L. O'Brien Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
360-786-7850 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000