The Foundation for Tacoma Students’ platform lays out a comprehensive set of policies and investments that respond to the educational impacts of COVID-19 and invest in the future of our youth. This platform aims to ensure that all students across our PreK-12 and postsecondary systems are on the path to achieving success in school, career, and life.
In the near term, focusing on learning acceleration for the 2022-23 and 2023-24 school years will help our students recover academically from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Investments at the State level to build a great workforce of principals and teachers, and provide free access to advanced coursework for all students will help to build a PreK through 12th grade system that provides an exceptional learning environment, and gives students a jump start on their post high-school plans. Lastly, free school breakfast and lunch will provide for a universal basic need and nurture overall student health and well-being.
Beyond 2023 and 2024, fundamental changes to Washington’s school funding model will address the need for increased funding overall and the structure of how we raise and distribute funding, bringing true equity into the system. Additionally, guaranteeing students the support they need to complete the FAFSA or WASFA, plus the provision of free community or technical college, ensures that every high school graduate will be on the path to a postsecondary credential or good-earning wage job.
Here is how a a sixth-grade student would benefit from these policies through the course of their school career:
Two and a half years after the pandemic, it’s more apparent than ever that COVID’s disruption had punishing consequences for student learning. State and national testing data show worrisome math and reading achievement declines between 2019 and 2022. The declines were broad-based — affecting students in every district and all demographic groups.
While the state-level Smarter Balanced Assessment shows evidence of academic recovery between the 2020-21 and 2021-22 school years, the learning lost to the pandemic will not be easily restored. Where the financial capacity exists, OSPI and school districts should work together to explore the potential for utilizing federal ESSER funds for the following interventions:
A robust body of research and evidence lays out the best approaches for targeted intensive tutoring. Districts and school leaders should think of tutoring as existing on a spectrum. Even if resource constraints make the most effective version of intensive tutoring not feasible, there are still a lot of benefits to students to incorporate just one or a few of the most effective approaches.
Research on expanded learning time shows that when evidence-based methods which maximize teaching and learning are deployed, the extra instructional time helps students catch up academically. The City of Boston offers a good example of a summer learning program that maximized the amount of instructional time available to students.
We should have better information about what kinds of investments are working and which are ineffective. To facilitate this, we should have data systems to answer the “what works?” question. Examples of worthwhile data investments include:
Free breakfast and lunch for all students, regardless of household income status, is a low-cost, high-impact policy. Many researchers have shown that universal school meals improve academic performance among a student body. Research has also shown that universal free school meals reduce suspension rates, and household spending on groceries, improve dietary quality at home, and reduce grocery store prices throughout a local area.
The research bolsters the case for extending universal free school meals to every school district in Washington. This would help middle-class families not eligible for the free school meal benefit and help low-income families who may qualify for free school meals but miss out due to cumbersome income verification processes. There is also a compelling argument that universal free school meals would reduce stigma by letting everyone receive school meals as equals.
At the state and local levels, we should continue efforts to recruit principals and teachers into the profession and create a more robust and diverse educator workforce in Washington. In particular, we should pursue policy opportunities that will bring more teachers of color into the field. This is especially important for schools and districts that serve a higher percentage of students of color, as these students benefit from having teachers who share their racial identity. Recruitment efforts should be coupled with support and learning opportunities for school leaders and teachers, focusing on educators of color to help avoid the negative consequences of high turnover rates.
Introducing students to advanced coursework in high school can help them navigate choices after graduation. Of course, one size does not fit all, but these “advanced coursework” programs provide the opportunity to earn college credit while in High School. This blurring of the boundaries between high school and postsecondary education has been shown to have broad benefits. Areas for policy change include:
In 2018 the state Legislature made significant changes to how schools are funded, following the state Supreme Court ruling in the “McCleary” case that Washington had not been meeting its paramount duty for decades to fully fund basic education. The changes implemented by the State Legislature did result in an overall increase in state funding to education and made significant progress towards leveling out funding disparities between school districts. This was real progress, but the work should continue. Unfortunately, our current state funding system is still structured in a way that perpetuates funding inequities. We should rewrite key aspects of our school funding systems to ensure that they align with our values and goals for all Washington students.
There are three key opportunities for building a more equitable school funding policy that we believe should be adopted:
The formula should begin with a base amount that meaningfully reflects the costs of educating a single student and is uniform statewide.
The base formula amount should have simple and generous weighting applied for every student that is from a low-income family, an English language learner, or has a disability.
This full pooling of education dollars at the state level cuts the tie between funding amounts and local wealth levels, providing for funding equity without complicated systems for transferring local dollars between districts.
Full state pooling of education dollars can mean something other than state-dictated spending levels. Instead, districts’ spending decisions should determine the state education tax rate paid by their residents. For instance, there should be a base education tax rate, and every district spending at their formula amount would have its residents pay only the base rate into the state education fund. Districts spending above their formula amounts would see their residents pay a state education tax higher than the base rate in proportion to the degree by which the spending levels exceed the formula amount.
Washington is not alone in our challenges with low FAFSA completion rates, and an emerging policy strategy to address this is to adopt a universal FAFSA completion policy. This means completing of the FAFSA or the WASFA form a requirement for high school graduation. Many states have taken this step, and early evidence suggests it is an effective policy intervention. Louisiana was the first state to enact a FAFSA completion graduation requirement. They have seen notable increases in their FAFSA filing rates, high school graduation numbers, and postsecondary enrollment. The state has also seen the historical gaps in completion rates between high-income and low-income schools evaporate.
However, recent research shows that robust student support, family outreach, and state coordination must accompany a policy of universal FAFSA completion. A policy making FAFSA or WASFA completion a graduation requirement without investing in implementation details and building flexibility would be insufficient.
College Promise programs promote student access and success in postsecondary education by reducing the cost of college. Most Promise programs do this by covering up to 100 percent of tuition and fees at postsecondary institutions located within a Promise community. A Promise program, at either the state or local level, has the potential to boost postsecondary enrollment and completion rates. But the details of the program design matter a lot, and a Promise program should include the following design characteristics if it is to be a robust investment: