Improving Education for Incarcerated Youth

The laws that define education funding in Washington are complex. You know this if you have been reading this blog for a long time – I spent a good part of the last two decades working on bringing it into the modern world. You can spend hours reading overly long posts about that work here.

One small part of it was not updated when we fixed the system to comply with the McCleary decision – the education offered to youth who are incarcerated, either in the state system DCYF runs called “Juvenile Rehabilitation” or in the county-run detention centers. In 2018 about 5,700 youth were admitted to a local detention center.

Fixing this system is a racial justice issue. The youth “served” by the juvenile incarceration system are disproportionately youth of color. Graduation rates for this population are abysmally low – 8% for youth who have spent more than 30 days in detention. The system provides inadequate instruction in a model designed, IMHO, more for the convenience of school districts than the effectiveness of the education delivered.

I have been appointed to serve on a task force charged with redesigning this system. We had our first meeting a week ago. Watch it here. You can read information about the meetings here. Prior to the first meeting I sent the following letter to the other members of the task force.

Dear Task Force Member:

As we start the work of the Institutional Education task force I think we should “begin with the end in mind.” Youth in institutions have the same rights under “Basic Education” as other youth. These are laid out in RCW 28A.150.200.

The legislature defines the program of basic education under this chapter as that which is necessary to provide the opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills necessary to meet the state-established high school graduation requirements that are intended to allow students to have the opportunity to graduate with a meaningful diploma that prepares them for postsecondary education, gainful employment, and citizenship.<span class="su-quote-cite"><a href="https://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=28A.150.200" target="_blank">RCW 28A.150.200(2)</a></span>

We need to agree that the goal of this task force is to design a program of education that is likely to give students the opportunity to graduate with a meaningful diploma. It’s not just to do a tweak to the funding formulas. What we have today doesn’t work for the students we serve. It wouldn’t work for anyone, but it particularly doesn’t work for at-risk youth.

The kids served in institutions (overwhelmingly part of the incarceration system) are overwhelmingly children of color. This is a result of 400 years of racism in America, a racism that is buried deeply into our culture in ways that people are only beginning to see. If we care about walking the talk on removing racial bias in the world, we need to focus on these young people.

Among students with a history of detention, only 16% graduated from high school, compared to 72% of students who had not been detained. Among youth who spent more than a month in juvenile detention, only 8% graduated. ERDC found similar inequitable outcomes for high-school dropout rates and postsecondary enrollment.[2]

A 2012 report by DSHS RDA found that only 14% of 9th graders in JR had graduated from high school in the following six years, compared to a 79% extended graduation rate for the general population at that same time.[3]

These statistics are connected, as youth who gradate and earn post-secondary certification rarely recidivate.

These youths often attend programs put on by multiple school districts, all with different curricula and graduation requirements, and different and unconnected student information systems. For foster children (and 40% of JR youth have been in the foster system[4],) every placement change results in the loss of 4-6 months of school attainment. They never connect to a single adult who cares about them and pushes them to succeed in school.

Most county detention facilities are not set up for long-term residency. The length of stay for a particular youth might be as long as two years in such a facility. They are unlikely to experience any education success, and if they do not we will see them back in the incarceration system.

Young people who are incarcerated at JR facilities have usually had extensive experience with this pipeline, and uniformly complain that the work is not challenging, and that the system does not seem to care if the education they receive leads anywhere.

It is really, really difficult to organize the data about young people involved with the incarceration system. OSPI does not break out information about these young people, even though we have the data scattered in multiple databases. Most of my information comes from a handful of reports you will be able to read during this task force. One key suggestion I make is that we require regular reporting on the educational experience of these youths, as we will not get anywhere solving a problem we cannot measure. The agency will make recommendations on what data we would like to have included in regular educational outcome reporting.

The only way this effort will produce the change we need to see in the world is if it focuses on ensuring that children in institutional settings receive an education that gives them a REALISTIC opportunity to be successful in the world. The current system is dysfunctional. We should do something different.

When a small group of us in the Legislature redesigned the school funding system over a decade ago we created the concept of the “model school” as a way to anchor the cost structure in what people could understand as a functional design for a school. We fought hard about what was the entitlement – was it just enough school that highly prepared students with strong families and minimal trauma in their lives could be successful, or did we have a more inclusive view of who should be served? The paragraph from RCW 28A at the beginning of this letter was the result of that discussion – there was bipartisan agreement that there needed to be enough resources to give every child a fair opportunity. The model school helped people see that some schools would need more funding for remediation than others, and the formulas reflect that.

Children involved in the juvenile incarceration system have complex lives, have usually experienced much trauma, and do not have the level of support young people born closer to opportunity experience. If we want to be successful in designing a funding system I would urge the task force to take a similar approach – focus on designing a model that will work, then figuring out what that will cost. That’s what these young people are entitled to, and that’s what we need to do if we want to end cyclical experiences with the incarceration system.

We should at least address:

  • Consistent graduation requirements, curriculum, and student information. A youth’s current credits should not be lost when changing school districts, nor should it take months for their records to catch up to them.
  • Expectations. We should expect and support young people in achieving the goals in the basic education act.
  • Consistent adult relationships. Young people at the deep end of the pool would benefit from a consistent education coach or advocate.

I would urge the group to think big. Do we really need to have education provided by the school district a facility is in? What has worked in other states and other countries? The long-term gains in outcomes for children and reduction in generational trauma can be stunning.

Sincerely,

Ross Hunter

Secretary


[1] RCW 28A.150.200(2)

[2] Education Outcome Characteristics of Students Admitted to Juvenile Detention, ERDC 2019, https://erdc.wa.gov/publications/justice-program-outcomes/education-outcome-characteristics-students-admitted-juvenile

[3] https://www.dshs.wa.gov/sites/default/files/rda/reports/research-11-181.pdf

[4] Blue Ribbon Commission Report prior to creation of the agency. https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/documents/BRCCF_FinalReport.pdf

McCleary Almost Done

The latest decision from the court is available here.

The slide deck this particular image is from is available here. This was used in the November 16, 2017 House Appropriations Committee meeting and is another excellent product from Jessica Harrell, the education expert serving Appropriations – someone I depended on for many years.

It’s pretty exciting to see the progress being made towards adequacy and equity in the education funding system. This isn’t an optimal solution from my point of view, but it’s vastly better than what the system looked like in 2002 when I got peeved enough about it to run for office.

It was worth 13 years of my life to get this done. We now have full-day Kindergarten in every school in the state, not just the ones in rich suburbs that could afford it. Class sizes in K-3 are much more reasonable. Schools have enough money to cover reasonable transportation costs and the cost of materials and supplies they need to run a school. Most particularly, salaries are addressed so that there isn’t a huge disparity between districts.

I have quibbles about the details. It’ll need tweaking over time. It’s half of the state budget, so the Legislature should pay attention.

McCleary Resources

The League of Education Voters recently published a page of resources for understanding the McCleary decision and how it impacts school funding. It’s a reasonable collection of items.

http://educationvoters.org/2016/07/22/mccleary-resources/

In addition, I would recommend that you look at some of the posts I’ve done over the past few years on school funding and the Supreme Court. There are a number of candidates this year that are arguing that the court has overstepped its boundaries – getting “too big for it’s britches” might be a way of saying it in the vernacular. I totally disagree, and my argument is here.

Constitutional Crisis? Not so much.

My discussion of how the remaining part of the problem should be solved is on the front page of my website, or you can find it here.

McCleary Phase II

McCleary Phase II

The Legislature has made significant progress toward fully funding basic education. In the last three years, we’ve reduced K-3 class sizes, funded all-day kindergarten, and provided kids adequate materials and supplies for their classrooms. But there’s one critical and final component we must deal with – teacher compensation and local levies. The chart below should start to explain the problem.

Average Salaries for TeachersThis chart shows how teacher salaries have been constructed since 1996. The gray portion at the top is the part provided by local levies, not by the state.

Teacher salaries aren’t the only cost. School districts also pay classified staff and administrators, and the split between state and local funding is even greater for these categories than it is for teachers.

There are lots of reasons for this. Some make sense given how the system works and some are the result of the legislature skipping cost of living (COLA) increases during the recent recession. When the Legislature doesn’t fund COLAs, but the local district wants to fund them (in order to actually be able to hire competent teachers) they use money raised in local levies to do so. If it was just extra, above and beyond what is needed to actually be able to hire, this would be expensive, but not a constitutional problem. However, every study that we’ve done shows that they’re paying just about what the market needs them to pay to be able to hire and retain competent employees. The court ruled this unconstitutional because it’s the State’s responsibility to adequately fund basic education, and we’re shirking that duty by foisting part of the cost on local districts. Continue reading “McCleary Phase II”

Constitutional Crisis? Not so much.

19 members of the Republican caucus in the Washington State Senate released an open letter today complaining about a “constitutional crisis” between the Legislature and the Supreme Court over the McCleary decision and the court’s recent order. While the order is politically and practically inconvenient, I don’t see any better way to get the state to comply with our paramount duty – to amply provide for the education of all children residing within our borders.

In dealing with the McCleary case the Supreme Court has taken measured steps to get the Legislature to comply with the paramount duty clause of the constitution. In every circumstance they have chosen the least intrusive measure they could have. Many members of the Republican caucus in the Senate seem to be upset about this and want to eliminate the court’s ability to enforce the constitution.

If Republicans want to change the system to avoid this kind of conflict they can either remove the ability to have the court enforce the basic tenets of the constitution, or they can remove the paramount duty clause. I don’t support either, and neither will the voters.

Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. Sir Winston Churchill, Hansard, November 11, 1947

Continue reading “Constitutional Crisis? Not so much.”

Post-Session Notes, Operating Budget Comments

Thank  you again for letting me represent you in Olympia. It’s an honor and a privilege, though I feel much less privileged when the session runs into July. We finished our work Friday morning June 10th, passing a transportation spending bill and bills that allow the state to take out bonds based on the revenue. We also passed a small bill changing high school graduation requirements, the centerpiece of a disagreement in the Senate over initiative 1351 (class size reduction.) The graduation bill delays the imposition of the science standards for two years, allowing 2000 kids who met all the graduation requirements other than passing the biology end of course exam to graduate. It does NOT make a number of other changes I took issue with when they came up earlier in session.

In the last week of June we passed the 2015-17 operating budget, my particular responsibility in the Legislature. It’s reasonably straightforward and didn’t need to take us until the end of June to resolve, but the Republican Senate was unwilling to compromise on their all-gimmicks, no revenue strategy until the very end. In the last few days we came to an agreement that is a true compromise – the House conceded to the use of more financial shortcuts than we would have preferred and the Republican Senate agreed to close $350 million of tax loopholes. I didn’t get everything I wanted, and there are some elements of the deal that are distasteful. I think the same is true for the Senate Republicans. Had we gone past June 30th the state would have gone into a partial shutdown, including laying off doctors and nurses, shutting childcare facilities for 50,000 kids (which would cause 30,000 low-income single moms to lose their jobs or depend on sketchy care), and other bad things.

I’m glad to live and work in “this” Washington, a place where we can discuss issues rationally and come to compromises, unlike the “other” Washington where they seem to have great difficulty in doing so. I do wish it took less time. Continue reading “Post-Session Notes, Operating Budget Comments”

McCleary, the Court and Funding Compensation

Chris Vance has a lot to say in this article on Crosscut that I agree with, but more that I don’t.

Washington State Temple of Justice – Home of the State Supreme Court

He is right that the Legislature didn’t address the compensation element and still needs to. I expect the court to have something to say on this soon.

However, he and Superintendent Dorn remain confused about the scope of class-size reduction requirements the court specifies. He seems to believe that the court is requiring class size reductions in grades 4-12. They are not.

The Legislature created many advisory groups to provide input for the decisions it would make on class size investments, compensation, etc. These groups, while often providing valuable advice, do not make decisions that become part of the definition of “basic education.” If they did we would  be spending prodigious amounts of money indeed. The Legislature reserves for itself the definition of basic education, and, based on inputs from several advisory groups, made those changes in HB 2776 in 2010. This created requirements for lower class sizes in K-3, all-day Kindergarten, a transportation funding formula that was based on expected costs, and maintenance and supplies funding. The court Specifically insisted that the Legislature fund the definition in that bill. We have done so. Both House Democrat and Senate Republican budgets funded a rational phase in of these investments, and provide adequate funding in the 2017-19 biennium to finish the job before 2018. The final budget does as well.

I agree with Mr. Vance that compensation for basic education employees is a responsibility of the state, not of local districts, and that significant structural changes will need to be made to how funding goes out to address the problem. I proposed HB 2239 this year that created a plan to work this out, with an court-enforceable deadline of 2018. The Senate Republicans refused to take up the bill, and did not send their proposal over to the House. This might lead one to believe that they are choosing to ask the court to be more aggressive in forcing resolution.

The remaining problem is about $3.5 billion a biennium, not $5 billion a year. Much, but not all of this is already being paid by taxpayers and a large part of the problem could be resolved with a wrenching property tax change that would be close to revenue-neutral at the state level, but cause significant tax increases in urban areas and corresponding decreases in rural areas. Not surprisingly, this has been resisted by urban areas who suggest a more balanced way of addressing the problem using capital gains or some other mechanism in addition to some of the property tax changes I and others have proposed over the years.

Meeting on K-12 Compensation and Levy Reform

[UPDATE 5/20/15 10:30 PM We will be on TVW. You can find it on their website or click here.]

As I mentioned in my last blog post and newsletter, I think it’s necessary to discuss the details about levy reform in detail and in public.

Tomorrow, we are hosting a work session on K-12 levy and compensation reform. This session will be a chance for staff to present data on levy issues and for Legislators to discuss, in full public view, this information. While there will be no formal public testimony accepted during the session, we will welcome follow-up feedback from attendees.

Based on the work session and subsequent public feedback, I hope that we will be able to come to joint conclusions that reflect a larger consensus. Bipartisan support of a solution to this issue will be crucial for moving anything forward, and this won’t be achieved without the input and understanding of the public as well.

Thursday, May 21
10:30 a.m.
House Hearing Room C
Washington State Capitol, Olympia

To learn more about these issues, check out my blog here and here for some lengthy discussions on the topic.

School District Compensation and Levy Reform

Last week the Appropriations committee held a hearing on the second half of the McCleary decision; the requirement that the state fund adequate compensation, not local taxpayers. The hearing took over 3 hours and is super-interesting. You can watch it on TVW here.

This sounds terrifyingly dull, but it wasn’t. Anytime you talk about property taxes and use numbers like three and a half billion dollars you get people’s attention. We had a briefing on three Senate bills and a proposal by yours truly that isn’t drafted as a bill. The bills wind up being 70 pages long and we are not close enough to having agreement to spend the effort drafting legislation – I’d rather agree on policy first and then draft a bill. The drafting is a lot of work for staff that are all working on budget right now. I’m not a fan of random work.

  • Bruce Dammeier introduced a bill (SB 6109) that does many, many things. It’s AN implementation of a levy swap, but has a lot of restrictions in it that make it unattractive to urban districts. Bruce implements a regional compensation model.
  • Christine Rolfes has a bill (SB 6104) that does many of the same things, but also funds initiative 1351. It’s profoundly expensive and depends on the capital gains tax to pay for part of it. Christine does not do regional comp.
  • Jim Hargrove (SB 6103) uses property tax to shift some payments for compensation to the state, making major changes to property tax.
  • My proposal is very focused on dealing with the compensation problem, without making a lot of changes to how teachers are paid, restrictions on use of levies, etc.

Information on all of them is available here.

The House bill we had a hearing on (HB 2239) makes no actual changes in law, other than a judicially enforceable schedule of making the decisions that need to be made. The schedule would lead to the new financing system being in place for the 2018-19 school year, just in time to comply with McCleary. The decisions could be made more quickly, but it would be difficult to get the buy-in if we do.

I’m not sure what our next step should be at this point. We need to have some public hearings to determine the financial parameters of the actual problem. I will attempt to schedule some meetings. We may choose to use a smaller room and have them be option for all the members of Appropriations to attend, or some other way to have a more interactive hearing. More to come.

Answers to Popular Education Emails

I’ve been swamped with email on education issues and want to consolidate my responses to a number of popular questions as I think it’ll give a better sense of what my positions are on your issues. I’m hearing about:

  • Basic Education funding, including ensuring that we adequately fund our McCleary obligation.
  • Funding and implementation of Initiative 1351
  • The “waiver”, or making use of state-wide assessments for evaluations of teachers.
  • Senate cuts to teacher retiree benefits. In particular, a 27% cut to the Medicare subsidy, a flat dollar amount that’s part of the retirement benefit for teachers.
  • Testing and our graduation requirements. There are a number of proposals to change (reduce) the amount of testing we do. I address this in a different post.

Continue reading “Answers to Popular Education Emails”