Monday, December 8, 2008

Basic Ed Task Force has a full two days ahead

The Joint Task Force on Basic Education Finance is meeting in Olympia today and tomorrow. Despite the group's wonky name, this is a group that anyone interested in Washington's education system needs to keep an eye on.

These are the folks tasked with figuring out a) how we should define "basic education," and b) what kind of funding system it will take to fully fund basic ed. At this point, five separate proposals have been developed for the task force to look at (including one proposal from legislators serving on the task force). Members are looking at each in detail and trying to finalize one comprehensive proposal to send to the Legislature.

You wouldn't think defining "basic education" would be tough but get ten people in a room and ask them each how they'd define it. You'll probably get ten different answers. Is it just reading, writing and arithmetic? Should it include things like art and music? What level of support for pupil transportation should the state provide? What level of experience with computers and technology should we expect of students? Current definitions were drafted in the 1970s when nobody thought that computers would be as basic an education tool as pencils and paper.

It was in the 70s that we also developed a series of funding formulas (14 of 'em, if you can believe it) to calculate what the state pays a district for everything from transportation and instruction for children with disabilities to operations and administration. The formulas are outdated, complicated, and fail to account for today’s real costs of educating our children.

Which brings us back full-circle to the work of the task force members. Tune in for what will certainly be a lively conversation about the future of education in our state.