Time to redefine basic education

Children in the Snoqualmie Valley and across our state have benefited from recent investments in our public schools. Programs such as all-day kindergarten, extended learning for at risk students, advanced placement courses and technology upgrades were made possible by additional state funding from Olympia.

In today’s tough economy, Washington’s schools, like families, have been tightening their budgets, while doing everything they can to ensure kids continue to grow and thrive. However, last week, state lawmakers proposed an education budget that would make it almost impossible for schools not to cut into what’s considered “basic education.”

The state Senate and House released their 2009-2011 budget proposals, which closed a $9 billion shortfall with cuts and federal stimulus dollars. While legislators prioritized children and education, budget proposals would cut funding for public schools by more than $600 million or at least 4.5 percent of the entire K-12 budget.

Although public education is the state’s paramount duty, the constitution only protects a narrow, legalistic definition of “basic education.” Education programs that are considered essential, but are not technically part of basic education, would either be eliminated or deeply cut in the budget proposals, such as:

• Initiative 728, which provides funding for about 30 teachers in the Snoqualmie Valley School District and up to 5,000 teachers statewide;

• Professional development and training for teachers;

• Early childhood education and funding to lower K-4 class sizes, which research shows is important for the success of young children.

The education budget represents our investment in our children’s future. We have a responsibility to our children to take care of them first, because they are counting on us to help them achieve their dreams in life.

Unfortunately, the proposed cuts will mean the future prospects of children across Washington State will be dimmed.

You can help ensure a bright future for children in our state. These budgets are not set in stone. Our legislators need to hear from us that minimizing cuts to public education is a top priority for Washingtonians.

We can also make a long-term impact for schools. We can break this cycle of cutting school budgets during downturns and filling in the holes when our economy improves by taking bold action now.

Now is the time to redefine basic education and adopt systemic reforms and accountability measures and tie them to a responsible implementation schedule. If we do so, we will be able to hold our state lawmakers and ourselves accountable for providing our children the kind of education they need to succeed in good economic times and in bad times.

You can take action today to make a difference by urging your legislators to protect education programs in the budget that are essential to children and schools, and support revising the definition of basic education to include what our children need to succeed in school, college, job training and the workforce.

Call your lawmakers via the legislative hotline at (800) 562-6000 or visit www.educationvoters.org for ways you can make a difference.

Thank you for supporting our public schools.

• Cathy Renner is a parent and resident of Fall City and is the President of the Snoqualmie Valley PTSA Council.

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