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Archive for March, 2011

No doubt you have all been reading about the pessimistic budget forecast that came out last week. Editorials, news articles, opinion pieces and letters to the editor have been in the local papers about what should be done to “close the gap.”

Some of you have been contacting the Coalition asking what actions you as education advocates need to take . We are still recommending that you hold off on contacting your individual legislators. Rather, we recommend that you concentrate on local opinion and try to influence it. How can you do that? Letters to the editor are your most effective means and can have impact immediately. Legislators read their local papers.

What issues should you cover in your letters? Pick only one of the following and keep it within the word limits of your paper.

1. Funding education is the “paramount duty” of the state and further cuts to K-12 education in general constitute a failure of the Legislature in this paramount duty.

 The NEWS suit for full funding will be before the Supreme Court of Washington on June 28th. Judge Erlick found the state to be out of compliance with the paramount duty clause and the state is appealing his decision. You can find more information at http://www.waschoolexcellence.org.

2. The state must proceed with full implementation of education reform (bills 2261 and 2776) as scheduled. As a clause in a proposed amendment to HB 1849 puts it in Sec. 101, “Washington cannot afford to wait for better times to make changes we know are necessary for our children’s and state’s future.”

3. Highly Capable Programs are not something extra to be funded only when times are good. For highly capable students, access to accelerated learning and enhanced instruction is access to a basic education. Cuts are going to be necessary but HCP can be cut in such a way that it won’t die. It can be cut with some sense of equity. It can be cut in a way that this essential program can survive.

How do you go about writing to your local newspaper?

You can find contact information for your local paper in the print edition of the paper or at the paper’s website. The Secretary of State also maintains a listing of newspaper websites at http://www.sos.wa.gov/library/wa_newspapers.aspx.  Most papers will provide contact information on an “About Us” or “Contact Us” page.  Many will accept letters to the editor submitted via email, while others will provide a mailing address. 

If you have never written to a paper before, the National Association for Gifted Children’s advocacy web site at http://www.nagc.org/index.aspx?id=3148 has some excellent suggestions and examples of where to begin. 
Other efforts you can make now are to become active in your local parent support group. Parent groups have been forming at a great rate in recent months as the danger to HCPs has become apparent. They need your support when they advocate with local school districts to continue Highly Capable Programs despite budget cuts.

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Most legislators will be holding town hall meetings on Saturday, March 12. Please see the linked listing for a meeting in your area.

What issues should you comment on in these Town Hall meetings?

1. Express support for education funding in general. Revenue forecasts continue to be grim and wrenching cuts are likely for all basic education programs in the next biennial budget. The easy cuts (as bad as they have been) have already been made and only the tough ones remain.

2. Express support for continued state funding of Highly Capable Programs. Please do not compare them with any other programs as the purpose and funding sources of these other programs are very different from HCP. HCP is solely state and local funded which places it in a class of its own. It needs to stand on its own merits.

 Some legislators say that since local districts spend up to $5 of their own money on gifted programs for each $1 received from the state, lack of state funding will not jeopardize their continued existence. This is not true, expect in a few exceptional districts. Why spend limited local dollars on a program the state is unwilling to fund.

 Express a willingness to participate in the pain of budget cuts so long as they are proportional to the cuts other programs are taking.

3. Strongly support the legislature moving forward with full implementation of the education reforms of ESHB 2261 and SHB2776 as scheduled. Pending bill SB 5475 will delay implementation of all aspects of education reform to an uncertain future date. We need to keep faith with the intent and purpose of the reform legislation and move forward now.

 If you have the opportunity to make only one brief statement, this is the most important one.

 Why These Meetings are Important

The following quotes liberally from the Washington State School Director’s Association (WSSDA) Legislative Update for March 10.

As funny as it sounds, for the third day in a row WSSDA has heard from legislators that say they are getting more email and telephone calls on cougars, chicken eggs, and shark fins than cuts to K-12 education. One legislator said they used the folder system in their in-box, and that the chickens were leading. “My ‘eggs’ bucket has 34 messages. Education is pretty empty,” said the legislator. 

And while legislators don’t decide how they will vote based on the number of emails they receive, they do keep track of what they are hearing from constituents and what is causing the most concern.

Rep. Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, had a similar message to education advocates at a meeting Tuesday this week.  Talking about the House Ways & Means Committee budget hearing in January, Sullivan said human services advocates turned out page after page of witnesses for testimony while education – early learning, K-12 and higher education – had a total of six people. 

As reported here previously, the state revenue forecast will be issued March 17.  The House writes a budget first this year, which means a draft budget proposal from Chair Ross Hunter, D-Medina, will probably be released Monday, March 21. If traditional patterns hold, a public hearing may be scheduled for March 22 or 23 at 3:30 p.m., with executive session and amendments the day after the public hearing. 

This schedule could change if the revenue forecast blows a significantly bigger hole in the projected $4.6 billion gap for the 2011-13 operating budget. Originally lawmakers were hearing an additional shortfall of $500 million; estimates are creeping up to the $2 billion mark. In that case, it is possible the draft budget release and hearings would be rolled back a week. 

Regardless, this is the time to be contacting legislators about how the Governor’s proposed budget cuts will affect school district funding and how that impact will play out with staff, programs, and students. 

Keep in mind, the Governor’s spending plan was the starting point. Most lawmakers have said funding for I-728 and I-732 is gone. And everything that isn’t in the basic education box is discretionary and subject to cuts. That includes local effort assistance, all-day kindergarten, highly capable students, bonuses for national board certified teachers, dropout prevention, and so on.

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Wagifted is back on line after a period away. Fortunately, it was a quiescent period in the legislature without many key votes being called for – and thus we continued to “lie low” on contacting legislators.

That slow period seems to be behind us with the rush this week of floor action on pending bills prior to the March 7 deadline to “pass or die.” You will likely be hearing from us soon regarding contacting legislators on specific issues.

Meanwhile, there is another opportunity for you to directly connect with your legislators. Most of them will be back in district on March 12 for Town Hall meetings. A proposed schedule is attached. 

We encourage you to keep an eye out for notices in local media of Town Halls or other public meetings with legislators next week and make plans to attend.  If you have any questions about your particular district, be sure to contact your legislator’s office and ask if a Town Hall is scheduled.

What issues should you comment on in these Town Hall meetings?

1. Express support for education funding in general. Revenue forecasts continue to be grim and wrenching cuts are likely for all basic education programs in the next biennial budget. The easy cuts (as bad as they have been) have already been made and only the tough ones remain.

2. Express support for continued state funding of Highly Capable Programs. Please do not compare them with any other programs as the purpose and funding sources of these other programs are very different from HCP. HCP is solely state and local funded which places it in a class of its own. It needs to stand on its own merits.

 Some legislators say that since local districts spend up to $5 of their own money on gifted programs for each $1 received from the state, lack of state funding will not jeopardize their continued existence. This is not true, expect in a few exceptional districts. Why spend limited local dollars on a program the state is unwilling to fund?

 Express a willingness to participate in the pain of budget cuts so long as they are proportional to the cuts other programs are taking.

3. Strongly support the legislature moving forward with full implementation of the education reforms of ESHB 2261 and SHB 2776 as scheduled. Pending bill SSB 5475 will delay implementation of all aspects of education reform to an uncertain future date. We need to keep faith with the intent and purpose of the reform legislation and move forward now.

 If you have the opportunity to make only one brief statement, this is the most important one.

Thank you for your continued activism and support of Highly Capable Programs.

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