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What, I asked former House Speaker Clyde Ballard, are you going to do now that Initiative 884, the billion dollars a year tax increase for education, and Referendum 55, the pilot program for charter schools, will both be on the ballot Nov. 2? Those two measures will bring out everyone on the education payroll in the state to plead for the money and kill the charters, I said, aided and abetted by the Democrats, who never saw a tax increase they didn't like and dance to the tune of the Washington Education Association.
Ballard is the head of Citizens for a Sound Economy, which opposes I-884, but I haven't seen anything in the papers about what they're doing.
"Presentations," said Ballard. "We've been out doing presentations, talking to people."
I saw, I said, where a woman was asked about the various ballot measures and she said I-884 was the only one she was going to vote for because it raises the sales tax one cent and she wanted that one cent to go toward educating her kid. How are you going to get through to people that lack of money isn't why Johnny still can't read when he's sweating getting out of high school?
The rotten apple spoiling barrels full of kids remains the WEA, which puts quantity over quality. The WEA doesn't care if you're a good teacher, it just cares if you pay your dues. It devotes its efforts to raising teacher pay and benefits, rather than student achievement. In fact, when I-884 first came out, it had no money in it for teacher salaries and WEA refused to support it. League of Education Voters backers rewrote it to give teachers $93 million and the WEA suddenly liked it.
"What's going to happen, if they are successful in passing this penny," said Ballard, "is that they will be getting less than they do now. Businesses are going to bail out of this state because it will kill our economy. I heard someone on one of the debates say it will cause our economy to leap forward. Excuse me? Once you do that, raise the sales tax a penny, the economy which is just starting to creep up again, will go down. Businesses will stop hiring and paying taxes. And if you think the Legislature is not going to raid that money, guess again."
Evergreen Freedom Foundation, the Olympia think tank that specializes in government efficiencies, did an analysis of I-884 and says it's true that the Legislature can re-allocate that money any way it chooses. And our new 7.5 percent sales tax would be highest in the USA.
As written, I-884 funds would be distributed between early childhood education ($100 million), K-12 education ($500 million) and higher ed ($400 million). Studies of federal preschool programs for low-income children, says EFF, have been unable to verify long-term educational benefits for participants. Class size reduction in the grade schools has not resulted in increased student achievement. And colleges and universities already enroll more students than they have been allocated slots for, so their share of I-884 funds would simply be used to pay for them, rather than increasing enrollments.
"The most important factors in student achievement," says EFF, "are qualified teachers, classroom discipline, high standards and parental involvement. I-884 will not guarantee smaller class sizes, highly qualified teachers and the directing of more dollars to students' classrooms. Instead, the initiative will simply make the current bureaucracy one billion dollars bigger."
As for Referendum 55, the Legislature authorized a pilot program of 45 charter schools as a way to turn around the slide in student achievement. They can be run by private organizations that write their own rules and programs, set their own hours and don't have to belong to unions, which is why the WEA opposes it and got out the referendum. Washington would be the 41st state to have them despite the WEA's insistence they aren't working elsewhere.
Let's face it, folks, what isn't working is letting the WEA call the shots in the education of our kids. As famed educators Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom said, "school reform is often not about children, but about power."
* Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA 98340.