During the coronavirus pandemic, Washington State has transferred a portion of its responsibility to educate our children to the parents and guardians. Because of the cost associated with this shift, the Washington Policy Center (WPC) has recommended that the family of each student receive $3,000 from the state. WPC’s Center for Education Director Liv Finne is this week’s Newsmaker Interview, and she provides the argument behind this proposal. Among the other topics Finne discuss is her perspective on Referendum 90 and how the controversial sex educational bill is the result of the Washington Education Association (and its large bank account) controlling the Democrat party and our school system.
The Washington Policy Center has recommended that the state give $3,000 to the families of each student. What is the thought behind taking this position?
The public schools are responsible for educating every child within our state, but under COVID the state has shifted a portion of this burden to parents.
Parents and families are now supervising the online education of their children. Since March families have been buying technology, internet service, textbooks, curriculum and other learning materials for their children. Essential workers who cannot stay home to supervise their children have been forced to pay for childcare.
For these reasons, Washington Policy Center has recommended that families receive back a portion of the $17 billion taxpayers provide for the schools this year, to help families defray these costs. The amount of $3,000 per child can be found within the current budget if everyone works within the spirit of “we are all in this together.”
The purpose is to supplement the PPP and unemployment assistance the state and federal government are providing to households to cope with the costs imposed by the COVID shutdown.
How have parents and students reacted to distant learning during the COVID-19 pandemic?
32,000 families have pulled out of traditional public schools this year, a number equal to attendance at the second-largest school district in the state. Official numbers show more parents are finding traditional zip-code assigned schools are not working for their children.
More families are choosing online and public charter schools instead. Attendance at both types of alternative school is based on parent selection, not automatic assignment determined by home address. Attendance at public online programs jumped by nearly 50%, now up to 44,000 students. Attendance at public charter schools is up by 18%, to 3,656 students, compared to September 2019.
More families have also decided to homeschool their children.
Do you believe the state and school district officials are moving at the right pace to bring students back into the classroom?
Officials appears to be dragging their feet in opening schools to children. Politics, not science, are preventing students from returning to the classroom. The WEA union is blocking return to school in districts with safe levels of the virus, levels set by state officials. Students in the states of New York, Indiana, Florida, and Texas have already returned to school in person, as have students in Europe and Asia.
As New York Magazine reports, the devastation of school closures is “…permanently degrading the skill base of the workforce and robbing a generation of children, especially low-income students, of any chance to enter the middle class.”
Have you been watching the Referendum-90 campaign? How do you assess the debate that is taking place over the Democrats sex education policies?
We are following it, although this is not a policy area WPC has worked on directly. The long-term pattern, however, is clear. Public education is plagued by one controversy after another because a diverse population is forced to accept a one-size-fits all government education program. The debate over Referendum 90 is just the latest example of this pattern of ongoing controversy in public schools.
The key problem is that one special interest, the WEA union, has gained disproportionate power over what is taught in public schools. The union uses the forced deduction of teacher dues, paid for with money provided by taxpayers, to elect Democrats who then force schools to adopt extremist curricula objectionable or irrelevant to the great majority of the public.
Greater school choice would end most of the endemic pattern of conflict, because then parents, not politicians, would choose the school and learning programs that work best for their children.
The beginning of the 2020-2021 school year did not have the many illegal strikes by teachers’ unions we have normally seen in recent years. Is that primarily due to the coronavirus pandemic or are there other reasons for this?
Since 2013, Washington state has doubled the amount of funding K-12 schools receive, from $13.5 billion in 2011-13 to $27.2 billion in 2019-21. As a result of this increased funding, teachers received large pay increases, regardless of performance. Teachers on average in Washington state now receive $84,300 in salary and $29,500 in benefits. Teachers in many Puget Sound districts now receive salaries in excess of $100,000, plus benefits.
Teachers have been protected from the damage Washington’s citizens have suffered from the Governor’s COVID shut down, receiving full pay and benefits while working from home. The privilege and protection Washington state has conferred upon its teachers may explain why we have not seen the usual teachers strikes this fall.
However, as noted above, political conflict is endemic to public education. Once the COVID crisis is over, we can expect teacher strikes, labor disputes and school closures to return as a common annual experience in most communities.
What do you believe will be the important education issues discussed in the 2021 legislative session?
The WEA union and its representatives in the state legislature will argue that schools need even more money, and that Washington families must pay a new state income tax to provide the funding.
The best answer to such an initiative would be to point out that COVID has dramatically shown that pouring more money into an unreformed system does not help students, and that parents have lost confidence in the ability of the system to educate their children.
When Governor Inslee closed the schools he admitted the schools would not be able to deliver a quality public education, saying:
“Our traditional model has been nearly 150 years in the making. We know that distance learning could never replace the learning and other benefits that students get from attending school in person. This unprecedented health emergency demands we take this step, both for the sake of our children and for the sake of our community.”
The schools know that online learning is not optimal for students. Yet policymakers may well rush to impose higher taxes for public education, even when schools are closed to students. The voices of families and students calling for schools to reopen are being ignored.
If you could enact one change to our state’s education policies, what would it be?
Let’s put parents in charge. Top down efforts to hold the public schools accountable for educating children have failed for forty years. The COVID experience shows that Washington state cannot reopen its schools to in-person instruction, not because of danger from the virus, but because of the overwhelming power of the WEA union.
Allowing parents to have access to a yearly $15,000 per child Education Choice Scholarship to cover the cost of private school tutoring, private school tuition, online education or alternative public school would make our education system accountable and responsive. This change would give parents power over decision-making and introduce meaningful school choice to Washington state. School choice in other states has improved opportunities for individual children, and also improved the quality of education public school systems provide.
Bottom-up pressure from families creates strong incentives for the bureaucratic, union-controlled schools to improve themselves from within, and for alternative learning resources to be made available to students.
To learn more about about WPC’s Center for Education and its free-market policy recommendations, please click here.
To contact Liv Finne, please email her at: [email protected]