By Harium Martin-Morris/For the Auburn Reporter
We are at a pivotal moment in reinventing our state’s public schools. Washingtonians have a once in a lifetime opportunity to bring fundamental fairness to our education system. The chance is now and we must take it, our children can’t wait.
The Washington Supreme Court case McCleary v. State of Washington found that the state had failed its basic duty to provide adequate funding for our schools. It directed our legislative leaders to find a fix and ensure an equitable distribution of school funding.
The need for a fix is clear. Twenty percent of Washington’s high school students – one out of every five – will not walk across their high school graduation stage and receive a diploma. African American and Latino children from low-income households are faced with institutional barriers – more than 30 percent of these young people do not graduate.
We need to provide our students with opportunities in – and the skills for – growing fields critical to our state’s economy and future. We need to grow a diverse and skilled workforce that can carry our state into the 21st Century – without it, Washington’s future is at risk.
By not fully funding our schools we are failing our children, communities and our state.
In my years as both a parent and a school board member in Seattle, I have seen the direct effects of underfunding our schools. I’ve seen teachers without the tools to support the needs of their students, forced to reach into their own pockets. I’ve felt the struggle of being unable to attract and retain quality teachers and staff. I’ve witnessed the frustrations that come with not being able to scale programs that educators know work to improve outcomes for most vulnerable populations.
The chance to put our students, our schools and our state on a different path is the reason I have joined the Equity in Education Coalition and the Campaign for Student Success.
The time for funding, fairness and accountability is now.
The Campaign for Student Success is being led by a broad coalition of education advocates, business leaders and equity organizations. They have come together to engage people across the state to ensure that we take full advantage of the opportunity presented by McCleary.
Real progress isn’t just a question of more money. The system we have now is unequal and unfair. We cannot just put new money in and expect different results. Instead, we need policy changes that will guarantee that our system will work for all kids, no matter their zip code.
Such a policy vision starts with fair funding. We need a system that will ensure that our education dollars are distributed equitably. This must include providing more funding and resources for low-income students, students who are learning English, homeless students and foster students.
The second step is to ensure that we have a pipeline of qualified teachers. We can do this with a teacher compensation system that rewards excellent teachers, especially those who teach in hard-to-staff schools. Schools that have been deprived of new technology, art, music, science and advanced classes for too long.
Better accountability is the third crucial part of our vision. As we invest more in our schools, Washingtonians rightly expect this money to be well spent. For that reason, the campaign calls for a robust accountability system that sets clear goals, tracks them over time and provides transparency about the support and programs targeted to under-performing schools and struggling students.
We need to raise our voices and make sure our elected leaders in Olympia hear us. They need to know we will not sit on the sidelines and put up with a system that shortchanges our kids, enables the opportunity gap to grow and lets our state fall further behind. They need to know we’re paying attention and are finally saying enough is enough. Our voices are part of the solution.
Harium Martin-Morris is a board member of the Equity in Education Coalition and a retired IT manager from The Boeing Co. He spent eight years on the Seattle School Board (2007-2015). He has a bachelor of science (B.S.) in Elementary Education from SUNY Cortland, a masters of business administration from Babson College, and K-6 teaching certificate in the State of Washington. During his tenure on the Seattle School Board, he served on the Council of Great City Schools and the Council of Urban Boards of Education under the National School Board Association as vice-chair.