OLYMPIA — When Rachel Lake teaches music classes at Ilwaco High School and Hilltop School in the Ocean Beach School District, she aspires to provide all students with a quality education.
However, her district faces challenges that are common in many rural areas, including attracting and retaining staff, offering a wide selection of classes, and combatting student homelessness.
She welcomes Gov. Jay Inslee’s education funding proposal. More than half of Inslee’s state budget, proposed last month, is dedicated to education, a level that hasn’t been reached since the early 1980s.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” Lake said.
Located on the Long Beach Peninsula, Ocean Beach School District is comprised of 1,041 students. Ensuring students have a safe place to go after school hours is challenging for the district. To learn, Lake says, students need to feel secure and have their basic needs met. According to a report by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, more than 10 percent of the district’s students were homeless between 2014-2015.
Long Beach pharmacist Jeff Chabot has two children in the district — high school junior and freshman. Limited funding has prevented the schools from providing as many programs and class options as larger, urban schools. His daughter’s high school doesn’t provide a physics course for her grade level, for example.
Ocean Beach School District Board Chair Kathy Mathews identifies district-wide problems that include decreasing student enrollment and attracting and retaining new teachers and staff members. Urban settings tend to be more appealing to potential educators than rural areas.
“Although we have a beautiful ocean, attracting people that want to come and stay can be difficult,” she said.
Inslee hopes to address these problems through his proposed budget.
Around 12.6 percent of the education budget would be geared toward training, retaining, and recruiting educators — $2.96 billion. In the 2017-2018 school year, the state would pay beginning teachers and educational staff associates $44,976 for 10 months and 30 hours of “training and collaboration.” The state currently compensates school districts at $35,700 per beginning teacher or educational staff associate.
“Closing the opportunity gap” is also a priority in Inslee’s proposal — a total of $866.8 million would be put toward programs that ensure all students are successful, regardless of their zip code.
The budget further includes funds to increase support staff, reduce class sizes, and increase funding for programs that focus on underperforming, low-income students.
Additionally, Inslee’s budget would continue to support the Homeless Student Stability Program, which provides school districts with grants to work with the community in providing resources to homeless students.
This proposal aims to satisfy a mandate from the 2012 Washington State Supreme Court McCleary v. Washington decision, which declared the state wasn’t sufficiently funding basic education in accordance with its constitutional duty. The court ordered the state to put forth a plan to meet this obligation by 2018.
According to the Washington State Constitution, “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste, or sex.”
Gradually, the Legislature has been working toward finding a solution to supply the state’s share of the education funding.
In 2009, the Legislature passed House Bill 2261, which defines the state’s “Program of Basic Education.” Reforms included all-day kindergarten, more instructional hours, a new funding formula for transportation, a more transparent finance structure, and enhanced high school diploma requirements.
Legislators that year also passed House Bill 2776, which set parameters to fully fund supplies, operating, and maintenance costs; full-day kindergarten; transportation, and smaller K-3 class sizes.
In August 2015, the state Supreme Court ruled the state’s progress was insufficient and imposed a daily fine of $100,000 until the state fulfilled its duty.
Remaining for the Legislature to tackle before the 2018 deadline is teacher and educational staff compensation.
Inslee’s 2017-2019 budget proposes to address this with new taxes on capital gains, business and occupation, and carbon emissions.
With increased state revenue, the local school districts’ levy cap would be reduced from 28 percent, the current cap for a majority of Washington State School districts, to 24 percent in 2018 and 15 percent in 2019.
Receiving more money from the state allows school districts to rely less on local dollars to fund basic education.
According to Inslee’s senior education policy adviser, Deb Merle, Inslee hopes to meet the needs of rural schools. “His overall mission is about kids and not about districts, not about where they live,” she said.
Chabot views Inslee’s proposal favorably and believes schools across Washington will benefit.
“The state [legislators] definitely needs to do something because they not have been fulfilling their promises,” he said.
Lake says additional state dollars will fund resources that local taxes have been supporting, such as hiring more staff. Currently, three nurses are shared between Naselle-Grays River School District and four Ocean Beach School District schools — Ocean Beach Elementary, Long Beach Elementary, Hilltop Middle School, and Ilwaco High School. A counselor works at both Hilltop Middle School and Ilwaco High School, while another counselor works at both Long Beach Elementary and Ocean Beach Elementary.
As a music teacher, Lake wants to enrich her students’ classroom experience by bringing in more musical guests, which may be possible with increased state funding.
Although optimistic, Lake foresees the difficulties of passing Inslee’s proposed budget this session. She understands the Legislature must come to a bipartisan solution, which may mean districts will receive less state funding than apportioned in Inslee’s proposal.
“It’s like wishing for the huge present and then being okay with the medium present,” she said.
Grace Swanson is a reporter with the WNPA Olympia News Bureau. This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. Reach reporter Grace Swanson at email@example.com.