Schools need more funds – and more local control

Christine Chew - Courtesy Photo
Christine Chew
— image credit: Courtesy Photo

By Christine Chew

Bellevue School Board

Bellevue Reporter editor Craig Groshart is right – we do need resources in our schools to serve all students including those in poverty. And we need local authority to determine the best way to spend those dollars. Schools can do great things when they have resources with the local control to apply them most effectively.

Bellevue schools, while ranked among the top in the nation overall, illustrate this point in their ongoing work to improve student performance for all students. In just five years (from 2009 to 2014), students at one of Bellevue’s “failing” (based on federal No Child Left Behind Act criteria) middle schools made 15 points of progress in reading, 13 in math, eight in writing, and 26 in science. Low income students in that school made even more progress – an average of 23, 18, 19 and 30 points, respectively.

Most of that progress occurred over the past two years, when the federal NCLB waivers were in effect, so that schools could make their own decisions about how to best apply federal Title I funds. School districts can make significant progress when they can deploy funds where they make more sense locally, instead of following a one size fits all state or federal solution.

As a member of the Bellevue School District Board of Directors, who also serves as our liaison to the Bellevue Schools Foundation, I see up close some of the key factors making a difference for students.

For example, state-provided dollars only fund a five-period day and limited funding for foreign languages, music, and arts. Based on the priorities and financial support of our community, the Bellevue School District has been able to apply funds from local levies to provide a seven-period day in secondary schools and to support world languages in middle schools as well as music and art across the district.

Last year alone, local private funding through the Bellevue Schools Foundation provided over $1 million to Bellevue schools. By collaborating with the school district, the foundation identifies and addresses local priorities including science, technology, engineering and math programs for elementary and middle schools, college and career readiness programs for high school students, and targeted interventions for Bellevue’s “failing” schools.

Similarly, other community based nonprofits complement Bellevue schools through the services they provide. These organizations work with the district to apply resources to fill unmet needs in everything from health care to after school programs. For example, the Club Jubilee Sports program fosters strong positive relationships in middle school students through after school sports.

Bellevue is providing strong opportunities and improving results for students because we as a community believe in every student, every classroom, every day, and because we as a community are willing to step up with our funds, our votes and our participation. Providing a diversity of programs and supports that schools and students need is one of our greatest strengths.

When governments over-extend their reach into areas that require local knowledge, passion, resources and supports, funds can become underutilized because they are not customized to local needs and situations. Craig Groshart is right that we need the resources in our schools. We also need to preserve local autonomy to deploy those resources in ways that are customized to each community’s and each school’s needs.

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