Note: My colleagues and I faced some tough decisions when we adopted the City budget for 2011 last week, but we were able to protect our highest priorities—essential human services and public safety. In fact, we increased funding for emergency shelter space and restored funding for some vital domestic violence prevention and crime victim advocate services.
You can read more of my perspective on our final budget decisions here (on my personal blog). Council President Richard Conlin has an excellent budget summary here. Councilmember Nick Licata also has a good summary of our actions here.
Scorecards and Education Reform
We were reminded yet again about the importance of our public schools recently when the Seattle School District released their first-ever school-specific scorecards. The District deserves praise for taking this hard step toward greater accountability.
The scorecards show that some Seattle schools—one middle school and 12 elementary schools—are failing our children. Unfortunately, the ratings show low scores among schools in the south end, confirming a continuing pattern of performance problems there. You can see a map of the city that shows the rating of every Seattle school. The Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington has written an analysis of the scorecard ratings and the implications for our city here.
What should our reaction be? We can wring our hands, try to assign blame, rationalize the facts by saying "it's always been this way." Or we can set our sights on changing this terrible reality.
I'm encouraged because over the past couple of years a new national and local conversation on education reform has been gaining momentum, drawing in many new individuals and organizations. President Obama gets much of the credit for sparking this conversation. He raised tough questions and challenged some of our assumptions about public education. Especially important, the president was willing to speak frankly about the importance of teachers and respectfully confront the leaders of our teachers unions.
Here in Seattle, the leaders of our local teachers union get it. The new contract between the teachers and the school district approved late in the summer is a solid affirmation by both parties that reform is needed and that good people can work collaboratively to achieve that reform. The voters of Seattle agree. They approved the supplemental school district levy on November 2 with a 67.2% approval rate! Some of the levy funds will support the reforms included in the new teachers contract.
Everyone in Seattle, including our city government, needs to step up and commit to making sure every child in every school in every neighborhood receives an education that will prepare her or him for college and career. Why is this important? Education is the key to social mobility, civic engagement, a prepared and high-quality workforce, long term economic sustainability, safe neighborhoods and a strong sense of community.
Families and Education Levy Planning
Over the past year, my colleagues and I have been working on plans for renewal of the City's seven-year Families and Education Levy. This measure is tentatively scheduled for possible renewal on the ballot November 2011. (Public information fairs related to Levy planning are being held this week; get the details on my personal blog .)
The Families and Education Levy provides extra support to our public schools outside of the classroom. First adopted in 1990 at the urging of then-Mayor Norm Rice, the Levy helps pay for school-based health clinics, early childhood school-ready efforts, extended learning time, family support and other essential services.
We have learned a great deal since the first Levy was adopted.
We know now that there are key transition points in a child's school experience that are crucial for successful high school graduation—3rd grade reading, basic math proficiency in 5th and 6th grade, entering middle school and entering high school. We also know very precisely negative indicators that are predictive of failing to graduate from high school such as more than two unexcused absences in middle school or a failing grade on more than one core middle school class.
Carefully monitoring students at these transition points, and taking corrective action when necessary, is extremely important. The Levy planning committee has focused on these areas to find the best investments for additional funding.
In the coming months, City staff will craft legislation for a number of possible options for the next Levy, one of which the Council is likely to place on the ballot for voter consideration. I look forward to continuing this conversation.
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