KIRO NEWSRADIO OPINION

Mayfield: Washington lawmakers must fix broken school funding system

May 10, 2024, 9:01 AM

Image: The exterior of Rainier Beach High School...

The exterior of Rainier Beach High School (Photo courtesy of Seattle Public Schools)

(Photo courtesy of Seattle Public Schools)

This week, the school board of Seattle Public Schools voted to move forward with a plan that could lead to the closure of over ¼ of the district’s current elementary schools.

The district has a massive budget shortfall it needs to make up because COVID-19 funds that had been covering the looming funding cliff ran out.

At the same time Seattle is also closing all its advanced learning schools.

More in the city: Seattle Public Schools’ budget in disarray, could close 20 elementary schools

The district says it has no choice because it has lost thousands of students in the last five years. And since that’s how the state funds schools, the district is out of money.

The problem to any parent is clear: Closing elementary schools means much bigger class sizes. Returning highly capable kids to regular classrooms and expecting teachers to do more work with no extra help burns those teachers out and short changes all the kids.

PTAs will now be expected to raise even more money from families to try and keep things like art, music and PE classes, something many PTAs are already doing.

At some point the formula no longer makes sense to families. Those with means pull their kids out and go to private schools. Now with more than 20 elementary schools closing families with potential incoming students won’t even consider public schools but opt right into private and religious schools and those kids won’t come back.

And guess what happens next? The district loses tens of thousands more students and they must again cut and maybe close more schools. And on goes the cycle until what?

That takes us to the state capital

Which leads us to Olympia where truly the blame for all this should rest. Lawmakers say they fixed school funding when the State Supreme Court ordered them to do so under the McCleary ruling. What lawmakers really did was make things worse. They capped levies so bigger districts get less money. They changed the definition of basic education to exclude even things as crucial as nurses. They said the state should no longer help pay for veteran teachers leaving those costs to districts.

Funding problem fixed!

Wrong. Things are worse than ever and school districts big and small are now just left to watch as students, family and funding leaves.

Democrats, you control the House, Senate and governor’s mansion. If you want that to continue, you must announce a clear, concrete and actionable legislative plan to make this right and it must happen next legislative session or public schools as we know them in this state will be left circling the drain.

Travis Mayfield is a Seattle-based media personality and a fill-in host on KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of his stories and commentaries here.

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Mayfield: Washington lawmakers must fix broken school funding system