State Superintendent Chris Reykdal has urged lawmakers to expedite their work on satisfying a court mandate on putting more money toward basic education in Washington state, but he said Wednesday that he also wants them to start thinking about how to reshape the system in the coming years once that immediate work is done.
Reykdal unveiled a six-year plan that looks beyond the 2017-2019 state budget lawmakers are currently struggling to write. The Legislature – which adjourned its regular 105-day legislative session at the end of April – started a second special session Tuesday.
“Our state does not have a long-term strategic vision for our education system,” Reykdal said at a news conference. “We’ve become too content with the idea that our objective is to merely fund the basics.”
Among his suggestions, by the 2021-2023 biennium:
- Add 20 days to elementary and middle-school calendars, and make their school day 30 to 60 minutes longer.
- Start second language instruction in kindergarten, with second language requirements at every grade level K-8.
- Pay for all high-school students to earn college credit before graduation – and no longer require them to pass state tests to get a diploma.
- Create post-high schools plans for every eighth-grader before they enter the ninth grade.
- Moving the 11th grade exit exam to a 10th grade basic proficiency assessment.
The state has been in contempt of court for lack of progress on satisfying a 2012 state Supreme Court ruling that found that school funding was not adequate or uniform. Lawmakers have already put more than $2 billion toward the issue since the ruling, but the biggest piece remaining of the court order is figuring out how much the state must provide for teacher salaries. School districts currently pay a big chunk of those salaries with local property-tax levies.
The Legislature must have a fully funded plan in place before they adjourn this year or else they risk the court stepping in again.
The Republican-led Senate and Democratic-controlled House have disagreed on several areas, including whether or not new taxes are needed. Reykdal didn’t offer suggestions on how best to fund any plan, saying that lawmakers would ultimately need to decide that for themselves. But he said that new revenue would be needed to pay what he says should be an additional $4 billion toward education each year.
In mentioning Reykdal’s proposal earlier this week, Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee, who said at the time he hadn’t seen the specifics, said he welcomed all ideas, saying that “this discussion isn’t just about how much money is necessary, but how it will be spent.”