Parents of children in Washington’s public schools are worried. In early June State Superintendent Chris Reykdal announced schools would open in the fall if allowed to by local health officials. Yet within hours of Reykdal’s press conference, the WEA union and Gov. Jay Inslee said they could not be sure schools would open in the fall.
Sen. John Braun (R-Centralia), the ranking member of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, is concerned that schools may not reopen this fall and that state officials are failing in their constitutional duty.
Braun is deeply knowledgeable about the $27.3 billion budgeted in 2019-21 for spending in K-12 schools. Braun is urging families to lobby their local school districts to open in September.
After all, families have been through, parents now find they have to get involved in political action to receive the education services their tax dollars support.
To add to parents’ worries, the state revenue forecast shows projected tax receipts of $47.8 billion, $4.5 billion less than the state planned to spend in the current budget. This is not as bad as it sounds, because $47.8 billion is still 3.7 percent higher than the state spent in the 2017-19 budget. Nevertheless, state and local officials will be scrambling for ways to reduce future spending in the 2019-21 state budget, rather than thinking much about parents.
In addition to all of this, union strikes may again hit our schools this fall.
Parents also have health concerns for their children. For those parents who are not ready for their children to return to traditional classrooms, or who believe they are underserved by the routine programs offered by their local district, officials should make available, and fully fund, learning alternatives based on family choice.
Family choice options include expanded access to public charter schools, public online schools, tutoring services and private schools.
Washington state currently spends $15,800 per student from all state, federal and local revenue sources. Giving every family a $12,000 voucher scholarship to pay tuition at a private school or an accredited online program would help individual children get an education. The scholarship offer would be voluntary and, incidentally, would save money for the state budget.
As Braun pointed out in a recent Seattle Times op-ed it is the state’s paramount duty to educate every child within its borders. Lawmakers should help families make good choices about educating their children in this crisis. It is certainly not the state’s duty to spend tax dollars on public schools that refuse to open.