Editorial from online teacher and WEA Board of Director's member
Guest Editorial: Fund Education for All Public School Students
Do state lawmakers really want to fully fund basic education for ALL public school students? Our lawmakers' answers to that question could determine whether thousands of students can continue to thrive in their district-sponsored, state-approved K-12 online schools. As teachers, we know that these innovative, individualized, highly accountable online schools are an awesome fit for thousands of today's students.
The one-size-fits-all traditional classroom setting simply doesn't work for all students; online public schools allow students the option to access public schools while ensuring their individual needs are being met. What about Ahmed who has an allergy to florescent lighting and can't be in a classroom? What about Jessica, a third grader with brittle bone disease? What about Kylee who is training for the Olympic Gymnastics team? What about Julia, a gifted learner who is academically ahead of her classmates? What about Bobby, the 6-year-old battling leukemia in Children's Hospital? What about Michael, a severely autistic 4th grader who now has enough space as an online student to be comfortable interacting with his peers through student chats, emails, discussion boards and even using the microphone on interactive classrooms as he excels academically with some good friends? These students and thousands of others with diverse learning needs are thriving in online public schools across our state.
Talk with any online student about the individual attention they get from their teachers, the rigor of the curriculum and especially how helpful it is to be able to move ahead when they understand the lesson and then take more time in subjects they find more difficult. It's inspiring. Students say they are judged by their abilities, not their disabilities. Do you know a student who doesn't live, learn and socialize online?
But just as this education delivery model of the future is proving its value to students across our state, it is in jeopardy of being shut down.
During the final contentious budget negotiations on Sine Die 2011, lawmakers decided to "save" millions by cutting funding to school districts for their online students by15% FTE (Full Time Equivalent) while students in traditional classrooms continue to receive the full 100% FTE. Few legislators even know it happened. Is it right, fair and constitutional to balance the budget on the backs of children enrolled in online public schools? Because of these cuts the first online school in our state (and the nation) is forced to try to keep its doors open by selling its curriculum to summer school and out-of-state students.
Isn't basic education for all public school students every lawmaker's Constitutional "paramount" duty? Just last month, the Washington State Supreme Court declared that the state legislature is not amply funding basic education. After that latest court decision, how can legislators maintain a position that targets one class of students-those enrolled in online schools-for 85% funding while every other student receives 100% of the FTE?
School districts and the state can, and do, save money when online students don't need the same buildings, buses and food services that are funded in separate budgets. But don't all students deserve the full FTE that districts use to pay for the teachers, teaching materials and support staff in both traditional and online public schools?
It is ironic that the legislature would pull funding from, and essentially dismantle, existing innovative online public schools that are already working while simultaneously considering HB2428 and SB6202 for charter schools in order to provide more educational options to our "educationally disadvantaged students."
Let our lawmakers know that forcing students out of public schools is not the way to "save" the state money. A cut to a student's FTE is a cut to their basic education. The State Supreme Court has sent a very clear message: all students deserve a basic education.
In this election year, we're likely to hear all lawmakers championing education for all kids. Now is the time to make good on that promise-restore full FTE funding to school districts delivering basic education to their students who are enrolled in online public schools.
Tammy Alonzo is a Washington State certified teacher who has taught for the past 19 years in Washington State public schools-13 years in traditional public schools and 6 years in online public schools. She holds a Master's Degree in Curriculum & Instruction.
Sonya Langford is a veteran classroom teacher, with a Masters in Curriculum & Instruction. Langford currently serves as President of Soundview UniServ Council and sits on the Washington Education Association (WEA) Board of Directors.