League forms to boost education funding

Veterans of Initiative 728 school funding effort have united to form a new advocacy group, the League of Education Voters.

“We learned from I-728 that we win the battle but lose the war when the initiative funnels money to the schools, but Olympia cuts someplace else,” said Elaine VonRosenstiel, a former Bainbridge Island School Board member who helped draft I-728.

“We thought once I-728 passed, we could roll down our sleeves and go home,” she said. “But we discovered we need a permanent lobby group of parents and activists to hold lawmakers accountable for adequate and equitable funding.”

Initiative 728 – passed last year with the support of 72 percent of Washington voters – funneled $393 million dollars of 2001-2003 state revenues to schools, to reduce class size and support programs to improve student achievement.

The intent of the initiative was undermined in part, however, by legislative cuts elsewhere in education spending.

Legislators eliminated one-third of block grants that are schools’ discretionary funds, and ended support for programs such as driver education, remedial reading and ongoing training to keep Washington teachers up to speed.

Now, league organizers say they are concerned the legislature won’t support the initiative’s directive that state support for local schools be upped again in the next biennium.

“There is good reason to be nervous,” VonRosenstiel said. “There is talk in the legislature of not spending the money on K-12 education. We need to have a network of local activists in place before the 2002 elections if we want people in the legislature who will support education funding.

“It’s going to be a very tough supplemental session.”

The group met with Kitsap parents and educators in Bremerton Tuesday, to shape the organization’s agenda.

In addition to ensuring that I-728 funds are used for education, League organizers say they want Washington public education to improve when measured in the national picture.

The league wants the state to fund education at 90 percent of the national average, instead of the 70 percent current rate – down from a 1981-82 level of 80 percent.

League supporters also point to a widening gap between inflation and state funding.

A related focus is the level of student achievement.

VonRosenstiel notes that only 30 percent of Washington students now meet the standard for the certificate of mastery needed for graduation from high school.

“We need to help schools move the bar graph up,” VonRosenstiel said, “and we need to help all students learn.”

Other goals include safe classrooms and competent staff, but the specifics of the group’s agenda will come from membership.

Using a grassroots structure that worked in organizing support for I-728, the league will conduct 11 more meetings like the one in Bremerton in school districts across the state to identify issues.

“If you go around and listen to what people want, there really is a lot of common ground,” VonRosenstiel said. “That’s what we did with the initiative. It was a success because what we focussed on the issues that resonated across the state.

“It’s an exciting, energizing and exhausting process. Our mission is nothing less than to have the best public schools in the country.”

For information on the league, call (206) 728-6448 or go online to

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