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Dear Friends and Neighbors,

I hope this email finds you in good health and high spirits! As we transition from the warmth of summer into the crisp embrace of autumn, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the significance of this time of year: the start of a new school year.

As your representative, I am keenly aware of the importance of education in shaping the trajectory of young learners. Our children deserve the best possible education, one that equips them with the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in an increasingly complex world. That’s why I’d like to provide you with a quick look at K-12 education in our state, and the challenges we face ahead.

According to the Washington State Constitution, it is the paramount duty of the state to amply provide for K-12 education. Funding for more than one million students, 295 school districts, and 16 charter schools is paid (in part) by state revenue. In fact, our K-12 educational system is one of the largest employers in the state, with more than 74,000 certified instructors (including teachers), 5,000 administrators, and 44,000 classified employees.

Over the past few years, state spending on K-12 education has grown significantly. Overall funding in 2021-23—from state, local, and federal sources—was $37.46 billion. Average per-student spending totals $17,428, putting Washington near the top of other states in terms of spending. In fact, Washington state is currently ranked as the #1 best state for teachers, in large part because of its high salary and compensation.

Read more about Washington state education facts here.

Student attainment: Although K-12 funding has increased, too many students are being left behind. As you can see in the chart below, national test scores have been trending downward for more than a decade. And now, after the COVID-induced school closures, state test scores are at their lowest point since these assessments began. More than 62% of K-12 students do not meet minimum grade-level standards in math, and about 50% do not meet minimum grade-level standards in English.

To put this in some perspective: Ten years ago, Washington students outperformed Idaho students in four separate test categories: reading, math, science, and writing. Now, Idaho students outperform Washington in all categories, except fourth-grade reading. Click here to read more about Washington state’s K-12 educational performance facts.

The chart below outlines our state’s national rankings:

Over the past several months, I have had the privilege of engaging with students, parents, educators, and community leaders in conversations about how we can further enhance our educational system. Those insights have been invaluable in shaping my perspective on the challenges and aspirations for K-12 education in our district and state.

Here is a brief outline of some issues we discussed:

  • Performance: Washington’s students suffered significantly under the nearly two-year COVID-19 school closures. Disruptions caused by the pandemic have resulted in learning gaps for many students. We need to re-double efforts to support learning recovery with targeted interventions, additional tutoring, and summer programs. Our goal should be to ensure that every student can catch up and thrive academically.
  • Mental health and well-being: The mental health and well-being of our students must be prioritized. We need to continue bolstering our mental health support services, ensuring that students have access to counseling and resources to help them cope with the challenges they face.
  • Support for parents: Parents should have easy access to information on their children’s educational progress, homework, and other activities through digital platforms and regular communication. We need to eliminate barriers that hinder parental involvement, especially in underserved communities. Programs that encourage parental involvement in their children’s education need to be supported.
  • Transparency: Transparency is essential to maintaining open lines of communication with parents and students, providing them with clear and readily accessible information about curriculum, grading policies, teacher qualifications, and school performance. Transparency not only empowers parents to make informed decisions about their children’s education, it holds schools accountable for their performance.

Looking forward

The new school year brings hope, optimism, and the promise of a brighter future. As the former ranking member of the House Education Committee and, now, the current deputy leader of the House Republican Caucus, I am committed to working tirelessly to find practical legislative solutions that strengthen our K-12 educational system. However, those solutions cannot be provided by one entity alone. It requires collaboration between parents, educators, lawmakers, and community members.

In the coming months, I invite you to join me in this effort. Attend your local school board meetings, stay informed about educational policies, and share your thoughts, concerns, and ideas for improvement. Let’s work hand in hand to advocate for change and ensure our children receive the quality education they deserve!

Sincerely,


Mike Steele

State Representative Mike Steele, 12th Legislative District
RepresentativeMikeSteele.com
335A Legislative Building | P.O. Box 40600 | Olympia, WA 98504-0600
mike.steele@leg.wa.gov
(360) 786-7832 | Toll-free: (800) 562-6000