Seattle’s Families and Education Levy is losing its way

Remember that Big Picture that I am trying to build about Seattle Public Schools? This is one more set of pixels for that picture.  Say what you will but someday - probably soon - you will see all these pixels from a distance and understand the big picture.  This is co-written with Robert Cruickshank who served as a Senior Advisor to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.

Seattle’s Families and Education Levy is losing its way

Last month, parents at Sand Point Elementary School learned that the City of Seattle had decided to slash a $318,000 Families and Education Levy grant they had worked hard to earn. When parents and staff learned about the sudden cut, they rose to challenge that decision. The dramatic reduction to the grant puts at risk teachers' jobs, instructional supplies, a family support worker, and a school counselor.

What was the reason given by the City for taking away the grant funds? It's because the school's principal is leaving for another job. Since this news broke, we’ve learned that the City is also making a big cut to the Levy grant at Emerson Elementary School. For the City to require staffers to stay in place for a grant to be fulfilled is neither feasible nor fair, as no public entity can guarantee anyone stay in any job. What is even more strange is that one school, South Shore Pre-K-8, isn’t going to lose its Levy grant even though it is losing its principal.

This absurd tale is just the latest example of how the City is losing its way with the $235 million Families and Education Levy. The Levy was originally intended as a way for Seattle taxpayers to provide important services that the schools couldn't offer. Now, under the leadership of Council President Tim Burgess and Department of Education and Early Learning (DEEL) Director Holly Miller, the City has begun to use the Levy to impose education reforms that voters were never told about and to insert the City into school district operations in ways the voters never intended. These changes have jeopardized the very services that the Levy was created to support.
First approved in 1990, the Families and Education Levy has historically funded crucial support services for Seattle's children, including school-based health clinics, meal programs, tutoring services, and family support. Levy funding is focused on the Title I schools with high proportions of children on free and reduced lunch, a common indicator of poverty. In this way the Levy has served to provide social and economic justice as well as help improve our schools while offering services to every student in the district.

This was the model sold to voters in 2011 when they renewed the Families and Education Levy at almost double its previous size. City staff, led by what is now DEEL and the Levy Advisory Committee, have instead taken the Levy in very different directions.

Under the new Levy, funding is now conditional on test scores, even for programs that have nothing to do with standardized testing. The Levy requirements ratchet up the issue of the uses of standardized testing. As the Seattle Times' Danny Westneat recognized, this emphasis on testing has come at the expense of learning and a broader curriculum -- including the arts.

Arts organizations lost Levy funding thanks to the City's emphasis on test scores. Arts programs that had regularly received Levy funding were suddenly told in 2012 that they had to track their students' reading and math scores in order to be eligible for funding, and that if those scores went down, funding to arts programs could be cut off. Not a single arts organization was deemed eligible for Levy funding in 2012, and City bureaucrats stubbornly refused to reconsider despite public outcry over the unreasonable new rules. Arts Corps reported in 2014 that it had offered its lowest number of arts courses in schools in its history, thanks in part to the loss of Levy funds.

In 2012 City administrators refused to fund a grant request submitted by Rainier Beach High School, despite the school's clear need for additional funding and programs. Rainier Beach, whose turnaround was recently lauded in the Seattle Times, still struggles to provide enough textbooks to all of its students. The Families and Education Levy could have easily paid for the textbooks, but no effort was made to do so.

Starting in 2014, the City began to expand the scope of the Levy, under the direction of Burgess and Miller, to include education reforms opposed by Seattle voters as well as steps to insert the City into the governance of the school district. In October 2014 the Levy Oversight Committee, chaired by Burgess, suggested that charter schools become eligible for Levy dollars, even though 60% of Seattle voters rejected charter schools at the 2012 election.

In April 2015 the Department of Education and Early Learning announced it would be insinuating the City into more and more of the school district's own work in managing staff, including specifically collaborating with the district on school leadership changes. This appears to be the justification used to slash Sand Point's Levy grant. And the word “principal” isn’t even in the original partnership agreement the City and the District signed for the F&E levy grants.

What ties all this together is a March 23, 2015 report by DEEL to School Board directors about the F&E levy. DEEL staff brought up the issue of churn from leadership changes in relation to school grants and yet, they did not mention that if schools with F&E grants changed principals, those schools would have their grants pulled or reduced. This presentation even included a “course correction” on “clarifying expectations for school leaders.” DEEL’s staff had every opportunity to tell the Board members about this possibility and yet did not. This dramatic change to the role of the City and the Levy came without public consultation, and without a vote of the City Council.

These particular changes come on the heels of a recent effort by state legislators to allow Mayor Ed Murray to appoint members of the School Board. Seattleites were not receptive to that plan, so it appears that the City wants to instead use its Levy dollars as a way to gain more control over school district operations.

This isn’t what Seattle voted for. Voters supported the Families and Education Levy to fund services that help kids escape poverty, rather than serve as a slush fund for the City to impose unwanted tests or as leverage for a City takeover of the schools. We need City Council candidates to step up and take back the Levy for its original purpose: equity and justice, not testing and micromanagement


Anonymous said…
Bravo Melissa and Robert:

It is useless to expect the ed reform-shilling ST to print this as an op ed piece, but it would be worth seeing if we can get the Stranger and the good neighborhood blogs (including the ones in West Seattle, the CD, Capitol Hill, etc. to cover it, and provide a link. I think that many of us (including me) will be willing to work HARD to defund the FEL levy the next time around. I thought I knew what I was voting for. I clearly did not. I would imagine that there are (or certainly could be, with not a lot of work) spme very energized communities, at Sand Point, Rainier Beach, etc., who would lend a hand, and a voice, to defund the levy if its purposes are going to continue to be political, and not educational.

Anonymous said…
And look for support from the Arts communities as well. As a taxpayer, I would much rather have my tax dollars back to contribute to art education and the kinds of things that USED to be funded, rather than help the city pursue its current direction.

Watching said…

Special thanks to Robert and Melissa for writing this piece.

I couldn't help but notice this:

"This appears to be the justification used to slash Sand Point's Levy grant. And the word “principal” isn’t even in the original partnership agreement the City and the District signed for the F&E levy grants."

There is NO reason to believe that the city will work within the spirit of the pre k MOU. I fully expect the city to continue changing the rules. Burgess, Miller and an unelected Family and Education Committee will continue to insert themselves into K-12 system. I was rather disturbed to hear Nyland say that he will work with the city to restore funding to Sandpoint. Will he sell his soul to do so?

I was rather disturbed by a link in this blog post:

"The reason the Y, Parks and Rec, and Tiny Tots do it rather than Arts Corps is that those larger organizations have access to something called The Source, which provides otherwise protected information about individual students to community groups."

This article, written by The Stranger makes it abundantly clear- Holly Miller has too much power:

Members of the community were not surprised to see Eric Pettigrew introduce legislation which would allow the mayor to appoint school board members. This piece of legislation didn't gain traction and I suspect Burgess et. al will take an Arne Duncan approach to controlling SPS and I'm seeing a compliant superintendent.

Watching said…
The city has over-stepped their boundaries. Teachers are feeling fatigued by the amount of initiatives- including city. The city's answer: Change Managers

"..replied that she believes it’s not just a matter of more resources but the guidance and support
of how to utilize those resources.
S. Everlove stated that there have been a number of initiatives that have come down to
teachers (e.g. Common Core, Next Gen, etc.) that have produced fatigue in teachers. She has
recognized some savvy principals that excel at change management and wondered if we could
build in the idea of change management in some of these workshops."
Anonymous said…
Support Jon Grant and his effort to unseat Tim Burgess! I would like to see Jon add another priority to his list: getting the city out of SPS management.

Jon is having a campaign kick-off event today.

When: 7pm Monday June 8th
Where: Impact Hub (Pioneer Square) 220 Second Ave South, Seattle WA 98104
Please RSVP Here on Facebook if you can.

Join candidate Jon Grant to kick off his campaign for Seattle City Council, and help elect a strong progressive who will fight for tenants' rights, police accountability, and getting money out of politics!

We will be joined by special guest Jimmy McMillan III; activist, founder of “Rent is Too Damn High” Party. When running for New York Governor in 2010 Jimmy McMillan called out “THE RENT IS TOO DAMN HIGH,” a declaration that resonated in every American city. He joins us in Seattle to talk about economic justice and supporting City Council candidate Jon Grant!

Bring as many friends as you can! It will take a grassroots effort to win, and we need to pack the house to show our support!


mirmac1 said…
In 2009, the City was all hot for the MAP test because it would give them "proof" that levy investments were paying off in student growth.

The City and the Alliance/Gates pushed the Community Partnerships deal where "institutional service" providers like the Y, Causey Child care etc could access your child's data on the Source or, better yet, get daily data dumps straight from the district's data warehouse.

The FEL oversight committee and Burgess are just tools for Gates.
mirmac1 said…
"Change Management". Isn't that part of Lauren McGuire's stump speech? Why am I not surprised.
Po3 said…
Over the years, many middle schools have been able to provide free after-school programs to students thanks to this levy money. My own students had the opportunity to do activities that we could not otherwise afford. And they were also exposed to some wonderful arts.

To tie this money to any sort of test results just means that these kids will lose out on wonderful opportunities that may help them discover untapped talents and interests.

And it also goes against the will of the voters, which is criminal, IMHO.
Po3, DEEL would tell you that voters demand accountability so therefore they need data on how everything is working.

Problem is that in education there are a lot of moving parts and issues so saying "our program made this number of kids do this" is near impossible to prove given that there could be other factors affecting that performance.
Po3 said…
I think there should be some sort of evaluation on how well a program is doing, but it should be qualitative, not quantitative.

Anonymous said…
I agree with the need for qualitative data, Po3. It's amazing how often the qualitative piece is ignored or dismissed. Mixed methods - utilizing both forms of data - would be the strongest, but qualitative makes it harder to do a quick and dirty study/results/proof that so many people and companies want. I read a good study one time on a reading program/curriculum adoption. Curriculum person had one in mind, but they trialed 2 or 3. Quantitative showed that with the "favored" curriculum, test scores increased. But qualitative for that one showed kids were bored, teachers were bored; no one was truly engaged in reading. In the end, the district in the study went with the curriculum that didn't necessarily produce the highest test scores, but which was rated well by teachers and students in the qualitative portion. If they'd only used quantitative data, they would have missed a huge chunk of info and adopted a curriculum that would have been dumped by the really good teachers (where possible, without retribution and mandates), and followed dutifully by the less inspired teachers, or those stuck in a "fidelity" type of situation. Kids would have been bored, disengaged. Quantitative alone is like FM mono, while mixed methods is more FM stereo. A fuller picture emerges. IMO.

JibJab said…
Time 2:14 and beyond- Charles Wright tells the board MOU is a TWO year agreement(2:15:38) and the district will always have an opportunity to exit-out of the contract.

Toner talks about making amendments and course corrections, and does not answer the question about exiting contract. She "imagines" a process.

The MOU is clear: The MOU is 2015=2019
JibJab said…
Partnership Agreement between SPS and City of Seattle- prek
Kiro/Sandpoint said…
Kiro reports on Sandpoint and loss of Family and Education dollars. These dollars are needed to provide support services to a school with a high percentage of English Language learners.
Nick Esparza said…
.Under the McCleary decision, the Washington state Supreme Court found that the state should fund public education. The justices ruled that, “Pouring more money into an outmoded system will not succeed.' They also found that “special interests tend to distort the true picture of public school finance to expand their own budgets.”
Under this ruling, it is illegal for Seattle Public Schools to use levy money to fund teacher salaries; however, they are trying to sell this operations levy to the public by allotting 25.2% of the overall budget to just this. The literature that has been sent out to the public obfuscates this fact. Furthermore, the District says it has cut the budget of Central Administration to 5.8%, but have in actuality have separated it out of the “school administrative budget” (6.1%) In total that is almost 12%.
If the District wants to play the shell game with public dollars, it's our responsibility to reject this levy. They pull at the public's heartstrings by saying, “but it's for the children. “ But according to their lack of transparency, we aren't who the money is for. Until Seattle Public Schools can better, (and legally) account for where your levy dollars go, I would encourage a “no “ vote on this levy on February 9, 2016.

Popular posts from this blog

Tuesday Open Thread

Weirdness in Seattle Public Schools Abounds and Astounds

Seattle Public Schools and Their Principals