Pam Dzama: We need school choice, but not a school sales tax

The election next month will give us the opportunity to voice our opinion on the condition of education in this state. We’ll be asked to affirm or reject Referendum 55, establishing charter schools. We’ll also be asked to raise the state sales tax by over15 percent to increase educational funding.

Last session, our state representatives in Olympia finally approved a measure to establish charter schools. Washington would join 40 other states and the District of Columbia in offering this educational choice. Forty-five new charter schools could be opened over a six-year period. Additionally, poor-performing public schools could convert to charter schools, if local school boards approve.


Charter schools usually offer greater flexibility. They must, however, meet rigorous state academic standards, including the Washington Assessment of Student Learning and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. They also must comply with requirements in the Federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Charter schools are still public schools funded with taxpayer dollars. Since funding is based on school attendance, where the dollars follow the students, these schools don’t take money out of the school system, as many opponents claim. They will give a choice to parents of students in low-performing schools.

Don’s very small, and they compared students with disparate backgrounds.

A better study was done by the Department of Education and also by some members of the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education.

These findings indicate a higher level of proficiency in students attending charter schools. Their study showed charter school students in Arizona and California score 7 percent to 8 percent higher in reading and math proficiency compared to the nearest public school.

This seemingly common-sense school option is opposed by the Washington Education Association. It fears its ability to empower the public. Many students wouldn’t be trapped in failing schools if real choices exist. Creating choices to the established educational bureaucracy will raise the level of proficiency for students in all schools, not create a risky situation as some imply. That’s normally what happens when competition is introduced into the marketplace. I urge a “Yes” vote on Referendum 55 as a start in needed educational choice.

A reader of this page last week described Initiative 884 as a “bucket of worms” and asked whatever happened to Initiatives 728 and 732. Those two initiatives passed overwhelmingly several years ago, albeit without any clue on how to fund their demands for reducing school class size and increasing pay for teachers.

Now we get to vote on Initiative 884, which would provide funding for those well-meaning though flawed requirements, among other things. It’s too bad the original initiatives didn’t stipulate their funding mechanism. It’s always nice to vote for “Mother and Apple Pie,” as long as you don’t have to pay for it.

Initiative 884 would create a “Washington Education Trust Fund” to provide $1 billion in additional funding for early childhood education, K-12 and higher education. That’s on top of current state dedicated funds and any local levies. It would do so by increasing the state sales tax by 1 cent, from6.5 percent to 7.5 percent. That represents an increase of more than15 percent in our sales tax.

I don’t believe money is the answer to the problems that plague our public schools. It always seems the debate about education revolves around inputs (funding) and never about outcomes (results). Months ago, I suggested if money solved the school problem, then the school district in Washington, D.C., should score at the top of the list. They allocated over $15,000 per student during the 2001-02 school year, twice the national average. For that amount of money, their students returned dismal scores on standardized tests.

As for higher education, I’ve never understood why remedial classes are offered. When I attended college, it was necessary to pass a proficiency test. If you didn’t pass, you couldn’t attend the school.

Why are we being asked to increase our tax burden to provide more financing for public schools that graduate high school seniors needing remedial classes in college? That’s not my idea of a good investment.

The solution for the problem with public schools involves increasing educational choices to create more competition. Teachers should be required to have core majors in all colleges, like history or science, not a general education degree that teaches how to teach but doesn’t focus on understanding the subjects they’ll be teaching. Money won’t solve these problems. I recommend voting “No” on Initiative 884.

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