Initiative 728 opens exciting possibilities for education
by Gov. Gary Locke
An incredible 72 percent of Washington voters supported Initiative 728 because it demonstrates a powerful resolve to bring major improvements to our schools.
And it does it in a way that requires no new taxes. Like the Learning Improvement Property Tax Credit I proposed earlier this year, Initiative 728 will:
* Reduce class sizes in kindergarten through grade four - a critical learning stage for youngsters
* Reduce some class sizes in the higher grades
* Provide more time and attention in school for pupils who need it
* Help teachers and principals become more proficient
* Provide funding for optional all-day kindergarten and preschool programs
In all, it represents a major opportunity to take Washington's education system to a new level. Remember, Washington ranks 48th among the 50 states in the ratio of students to teachers.
Initiative 728 dedicates surplus revenues to K-12 education by transferring a portion of the state property tax, lottery proceeds and surplus state revenues above the Initiative 601 spending limit to a Student Achievement Fund. The new fund may be used only for our K-12 public schools.
It means approximately one billion more dollars will be invested in education over the next four years. And local school boards will have the flexibility to invest these funds in ways that meet their communities' needs.
Without our help, societal problems such as drugs, alcohol and violence will continue to disrupt the educational processes in our schools. As families and teachers face these challenges, children need more time and more attention from adults to help them learn so they'll eventually be qualified to work in the world's high-tech economy.
The Initiative 728 funds will allow school boards to reduce class sizes, enabling teachers to focus on each student. It also will provide the extra help to the ones who need it - and extra challenges to those at the top of their classes.
Remember, more than 70 percent of Washington's children come from homes with single parents or where both parents work. Extending the time when the schools' learning environment is available certainly will be a help to parents, teachers and children. That means keeping the school buildings open longer during the school days, on weekends and during the summer.
School boards also can decide to use these extra funds to offer kindergarten all day. The initiative will allow the school boards to build on our effort to improve the quality of our teachers by providing them more training.
Finally, school boards can use the money to add classrooms to schools to provide smaller class sizes or extend learning programs.
We've accomplished much in the past four years. Some 18,000 Washington Reading Corps volunteers have tutored 26,000 students in Washington schools. Reading test scores for these children have risen dramatically. This program must be continued.
Prospective teachers now must pass a test demonstrating they know their subjects and we have a Professional Educator Standards Board to develop those tests.
And we have Promise Scholarships that allow thousands of high-achieving students from low- and middle-income homes to attend college. Initiative 728 allows us to move our schools to a new and higher level.
And remember, this initiative requires school districts to hold public hearings so you and your neighbors have an opportunity to express your opinions on how to invest this money.
Initiative 728 is a major opportunity for our state and especially our children. Let's make the most of it.
Gary Locke is Governor of Washington.