I joined Stand for Children Washington as the executive director in January of this year. I am dedicated to eliminating educational inequities in our state so there is a great school for every child in every neighborhood. Stand has been an education advocacy organization in Washington for the last 10 years. We have built a reputation as an organization that will take on the difficult issues and fight for what is best for our state’s children.
Although Stand generally focuses on K-12, we also work on Pre-K and postsecondary preparation. The thoughtful work of the Cradle to College (C2C) Coalition caught the eye of our team in 2016. Our organization was honored to be invited to be a member of the C2C steering committee. The Cradle to College approach is critical to improving educational outcomes for our students.
We have much work to do. Washington ranks 41st in graduation rates, with only 31 percent of our students obtaining any type of postsecondary certification or degree. One in five Washington students currently do not graduate, and the rates are significantly higher in low income and communities of color.
At Stand, we believe that additional funding alone will not fix these problems. Through our Campaign for Student Success, we advocate for a weighted student funding formula that would base education funding on student needs, with an emphasis on the kids who need it the most. The current state education funding model, based on a staff mix ratio, creates more inequity between school districts. The staff mix ratio uses a formula based on average experience and education level for teachers in each district; giving districts with a higher staff mix more money per pupil.
The legislature should also target the additional dollars to programs that have been proven to work – like the Learning Assistance Program, which provides extra supports to students who are performing below grade level.
I believe all students can achieve great results with the right supports. We all remember the teachers who pushed us to do our best work and to go after our dreams. I went to a combined middle and high school with fewer than 300 students, so I was fortunate to see one of those teachers three times – in 7th, 9th, and 11th grade. Mr. Newton was my English teacher, and from encouraging me to write to introducing me to new authors, he fostered my love of the written word. What’s more, he instilled in me the belief that I could become anything I wanted. He helped me to be fearless about tasks and undaunted by large obstacles. Years later, when I was simultaneously teaching, writing my first book, and getting a graduate writing degree, I thought of Mr. Newton and what a positive impact he had on my life.
All students deserve to have many Mr. Newton’s in their lives, no matter the discipline. We can change the trajectory of young peoples’ lives, in this moment, by ensuring that not only are there quality educational options for all of our students, but that every student in our state is well prepared for the path they choose.