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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Let’s Talk About School

Board of education’s survey crucial piece of road map for Washington’s future

The Columbian
Published: July 27, 2018, 6:03am

Public education in Washington will help define our state for generations to come and should be of interest to all residents. Even if you do not have school-age children or even if your children attend private school, public schools are developing students who will create the Washington of the future.

Because of that, we draw attention to an online survey from the Washington State Board of Education, which is asking residents to help develop its 2019-22 strategic plan. The board is a 16-member body that designs policies around graduation requirements, school accountability and other issues facing K-12 districts, and the survey will be available until Monday.

Public education has been in the spotlight in recent years as the Legislature has wrangled together a solution to the mandate handed down by the state Supreme Court in McCleary v. Washington. That 2012 decision ruled that the Legislature had not been meeting a constitutional obligation to make public education its “paramount duty.” Lawmakers devised a complex bill that dedicated billions more dollars in state money for public education.

While tweaks might still be necessary to iron out some wrinkles, the hope is that the focus now can turn to what happens in the classroom rather than how to pay for it. The state board also will hold public meetings about the strategic plan throughout the state, including Nov. 6 to 8 in Vancouver. “We are seeking feedback from a broad range of stakeholders through our community forums and meetings to ensure the plan is responsive to the needs of our state and our communities as we seek to provide a high quality education system that prepares all students for college, career, and life,” reads its website.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote about education, “No other sure foundation can be devised for the preservation of freedom and happiness,” and that ethos still rings true; an educated populace is essential to preserving the United States as we know it. In this year’s Quality Counts scorecard from Education Week, Washington ranked 20th with a C grade. Such rankings can be quibbled with, but improving public education throughout the state should be a paramount duty for all residents.

The survey from the board of education asks about respondents’ aspirations for public schools in Washington, barriers that are facing students, and which state or local actions can help students overcome those barriers. Importantly, it also asks about actions that get in the way of student progress.

We believe one of the biggest problems facing public education is an opportunity gap between wealthy school districts and poor districts. The Glossary of Education Reform defines this as “the unequal or inequitable distribution of resources and opportunities,” and it can influence a student’s school experience from the start of their education. That gap was part of the impetus for the McCleary ruling, and addressing it was one of the goals of the legislative solution. It will take time to see whether more equitable funding improves student outcomes in low-achieving districts without hampering high-achieving areas.

The state also should continue its emphasis on early childhood learning, which can be viewed as a long-term investment in student success.

But that is just our opinion. What matters are the thoughts of residents with different backgrounds and varied experiences with schools. For the board of education to properly serve the public, it must understand what that public needs from Washington schools.