Liv Finne states that she has ‘never seen the rising level of distrust and broad decline in reputation for public schools as I have seen during the current legislative session’
Washington Policy Center
Over the weekend the state House of Representatives passed HB 2331. The bill passed along strict party lines, with 58 Democrats voting for it and 39 Republicans voting against it, and one member excused. The bill now goes to the Senate.
Sponsors of the bill seek to punish school districts for exercising local control over classroom curriculum and materials. In particular, it would give a state-level official, the Superintendent of Public Instruction, the authority on his own to cut the budget of any school district that he decides is not using certain books, lesson plans or other materials in class.
Of course the bill directly contradicts long-standing state policy that community-based school boards and parents have the right to run their own public schools.
Naturally the erosion of local control and the intrusion of state mandates is upsetting to many parents who would like to trust local schools to do what’s right. As a reflection of this deep-felt concern, I was struck last week by the moving testimony of Nicole Wells at a House Appropriations Committee hearing on a bill related to schools. She said:
“My name is Nicole Wells. I am a grandmother and former school employee. This bill is not about operating costs. It is about propping up a failing school system that parents are rejecting. This bill is about decreased enrollment, in my opinion.”
“Have you spoken to a parent lately? Parents are livid. Parents are not OK with teachers teaching kindergarteners about gender. Parents are not OK with their teenagers getting a secret abortion or getting puberty blockers without their consent.”
“They don’t want graphic sex ed or their kids taught that white skin is bad. Parents are certainly not OK with boys in their daughters’ bathrooms.”
Her passion and concern came across strongly to the committee, although whether lawmakers will respond positively remains to be seen.
As an education policy analyst what struck me was how widespread these concerns have become. Most parents and grandparents are not so outspoken, yet there is a quiet movement away from public education and a steady decline in the credibility of a once-respected public system.
On Facebook, X, and other social media stories abound of families pulling their kids out of public school as soon as they can manage it financially. There is no doubt that a growing number of parents feel elected officials are not listening to them. In the last few years Washington’s public system has lost 46,000 students, even as state population has grown.
I have followed the state legislature and changes in education policy closely for years. I have never seen the rising level of distrust and broad decline in reputation for public schools as I have seen during the current legislative session. Passage of HB 2331 is only the latest development in this ongoing negative trend.
Liv Finne is the director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center.
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