-Sen. Nick Harper
Is it because Jeb Bush and his corporate backers told them to?
The former governor of Florida, an outspoken advocate for the school reform movement, started the Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) to work with state officials around the country to develop and implement pro-reform legislation. Nothing problematic there.
Anyone who listened in on Wednesday’s Early Learning & K-12 Committee hearing in the Senate might have been curious about all the references to Florida coming from Republicans. And they might have raised an eyebrow or two at a punitive proposal that would mandate holding back third-graders who don’t meet the reading standard. They might have also wondered about the effectiveness of a proposal to give schools a letter grade based on test scores. But they likely wouldn’t have had any idea that what they were seeing was an agenda uncannily similar to the Florida-based FEE agenda. It would have been good to have had that explicit, but still -- nothing especially problematic here either.
But a story in Wednesday’s Washington Post reveals that Bush and the FEE aren’t just weighing in on the now-familiar debate between school reformers and their opponents. Rather, FEE is advancing policy meant to reward the foundation’s corporate backers with new and considerable profit-making opportunities.
Whatever your opinions of the school reform movement, surely we can all agree that when we hear elected officials say they want to put education first, we should be able to assume this means putting kids’ education first, not the for-profit education industry.
I’m supportive of results-oriented reforms – if they’re proven to work. (I’ll note that both the prime sponsor of the proposal to give schools a letter grade and the committee chair both claimed that the measure is all about increasing transparency -- but studies in states where this approach has actually been implemented indicate that it’s anything but. There’s also research to suggest that flunking third-graders is less than effective as well.)
Most importantly, however, I’m supportive of fulfilling our constitutional obligation to fund basic education, which the state Supreme Court recently admonished the Legislature for failing to do. I and many of my fellow Democrats believe that lawmakers can meet this obligation if we fund the major outcome-based reforms we have already passed in recent years but never paid for or implemented.
That is our top priority – and we’ve already offered at least one major funding proposal. As we work to make progress on the financing side, we are building upon our previous reform efforts with new and innovative ways to get the results all of us want from our schools. But – in contrast to agenda presented in yesterday’s hearing that was opposed by all education stakeholders except the business roundtable – we think the best approach is to listen to our schools, our parents, and our teachers and administrators. In other words we’re putting forward proposals that are built in Washington and tailored to improve education for Washington’s kids.
So, at a time when the Legislature is working on solutions to Washington’s unique challenges in education, I think it’s fair for parents to ask whether Senate Republicans are, in fact, taking orders from Jeb Bush and following his national agenda to move toward privatizing our public schools. I also think it’s fair to ask how increasing profits for Jeb Bush’s corporate funders across the country helps us meet our constitutional duty to fund education here in Washington.