OPINION: Setting students on a path to success: McCleary and improving student outcomes (Rep. Maureen Walsh)

 By Rep. Maureen Walsh

Public education is front-and-center this legislative session, and for good reason. One of the best things we can do for future generations is provide a world-class education that sets them on a path to success.

Much of the education hype is due to the state Supreme Court’s assessment that the Legislature has not met its constitutional duty to amply fund basic education. This was established in the 2012 McCleary decision, which sets a compliance deadline for 2018.

The Legislature has recently made historic investments in K-12 education. We invested an additional $2.9 billion in K-12 education last year, a 20 percent increase in one biennium. Now, 48 percent of the state budget goes to K-12 education.

That said, lawmakers still have more to do to fulfill our constitutional obligation.

On Jan. 25, the House passed House Bill 2366, which would allow for necessary data collection to determine the price tag of basic education and how much local levy money is contributing to the state’s basic education program.

While the money going into K-12 education is paramount, we must also focus on student outcomes. The Legislature must seek policy reforms at multiple stages of a child’s education to ensure we are not putting more money into a system that isn’t working for our students.  We all want to see a return on our educational investments.

Early learning and quality child care

It’s time the Legislature works to improve education outcomes by investing in early education and quality child care. Empowering parents to be their children’s first and best teachers and biggest supporters throughout their educational experience is the goal of early education.

Last year, I co-sponsored a bill that enhances the quality of our early care and education system by improving standards, data collection and analysis, and information availability for the Early Achievers child care program. This program establishes standards for the measurement and improvement of early learning and child care venues to ensure safe, quality learning environments.

 K-12 education

The House passed a number of reform measures last week to help improve student outcomes.

House Bill 1855 addresses dropout rates for certain at-risk and homeless youth. The bill would allow qualified students who have met all state graduation requirements to waive locally imposed graduation requirements. Another, House Bill 1295, would expand the Breakfast After the Bell program to more schools in our state. Though the vast majority of parents make sure their kids have breakfast when they send them off to school, some kids come to school hungry. Hungry children cannot learn.

Higher education

It’s important we recognize four-year and two-year college models are not the most effective options for all students. There are high-paying jobs in industries hungry for talent. Our students could fill those positions if schools better prepared them for the modern job market.

I am co-sponsoring a bill this session that would restore career and technical education (CTE) programs in schools. These programs are designed to help students be career ready by providing 85 different pathways for students to excel. Offering kids additional curriculum choices to help them find a career that interests them will get more of our kids to the goal line of graduating high school.

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Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla, serves as the ranking member on the House Early Learning and Human Services Committee. She also serves on the House Capital Budget Committee.