Newsletter: Our kids are still behind academically due to pandemic shutdowns

Dear Friends and Neighbors,

The state of Washington’s K-12 education system remains one of my top priorities as we approach the 2024 legislative session. And, according to the Seattle Times, significant learning loss remains a critical problem.


The equity issue of our time

Last year, I worked to get funding for intensive tutoring and other solutions to address the significant and lingering learning loss from remote instruction during the COVID-19 closures.

Some of my accomplishments for K-12 education last session included:

  • $372 million additional funding for special education
  • $2 million for intensive tutoring
  • $2 million for an online tool to improve math instruction
  • $340,000 for a math-improvement pilot program in the Chehalis School District

These programs have made a difference but we must do more.

The children hardest hit by the school shutdowns were children of color, children living in rural areas and children with special needs. It’s not an exaggeration to say that that remedying this is the equity issue of our time.

“Our detailed geographic data reveals what national tests do not: The pandemic exacerbated economic and racial educational inequality.”

Tom Kane and Sean Reardon The New York Times


Too many are failing English and math assessments

It’s unacceptable that around half our kids attending public schools for grades 4 – 11 can’t pass the official assessment in English and more than 70% can’t pass the assessment in math. In response to criticism about these results, Chris Reykdal, Washington’s superintendent of public instruction, downplayed the significance of the tests and advocated for abandoning them.

That would be the wrong approach.

“Math, reading and history scores from the past three years show that students learned far less during the pandemic than was typical in previous years. By the spring of 2022, according to our calculations, the average student was half a year behind in math and a third of a year behind in reading.”

Kane and Reardon, New York Times.

While standardized testing might not be ideal, it does offer us a look at where our kids stand so we know how much academic intervention they need.

After the isolation and other challenges of remote instruction during the pandemic shutdowns, these scores are even more critical to our decision making about additional funding for specific education programs, especially because the need for extra help continues.


Vigorous interventions make a difference.

Analysis of the results from interventions such as tutoring and academically-focused summer school programs shows they significantly improve academic performance, which is reflected in higher test scores. Our efforts can make a difference. We must continue them and look for additional creative and innovative ways to further support our kids.


Sen. John Braun


Sen. Nikki Torres swearing in during opening day ceremonies in the Washington State Senate, January 9, 2023.

Democrats to neglect constitutional duty

Government transparency to suffer, public shut out

I want to highlight recent decisions that were handed down in two lawsuits that challenged the way the 15th Legislative District in central Washington was redrawn in 2021 by the bipartisan Washington Redistricting Commission.


At first look, you might not think this issue concerns you, but it does.

Currently, the district is more than 51% Hispanic and it elected a Latina legislator — Sen. Nikki Torres. The lawsuits called for the district to be redrawn, however, because the plaintiffs argued that the racial mix of the district did not satisfy the federal Voters Rights Act.

The judge in one of the lawsuits, known as Soto-Palmer v. Hobbs agreed that the district should be redrawn and directed legislators to do so. If the final maps are not submitted by Jan. 8, 2024, a federal judge would make the ultimate determination of the district’s boundaries. The majority opinion in the Garcia v. Hobbs agreed.


You live in the 20th Legislative District, so why should you care?

You should care about this development because Democratic leadership has decided to neglect their civic duty and abdicate it to the court.

Instead of doing their job by calling a special session immediately so the Legislature can reconvene the redistricting commission, they’ve decided to lazily toss the responsibility to the court.

This means the map will be redrawn in the proverbial smoke-filled back room rather than in the light of day with public input. The people will have no say whatsoever.

It also means the plaintiffs will get to sidestep the Washington State Constitution.


What happened to “fair and independent”?

Democratic leadership seems to think this would be easier and better than doing its constitutional duty. If avoiding a bipartisan agreement with public oversight is better, then sure. But it’s not. The irony is that it was Democrats who, in 1983, pushed a ballot measure to create the redistricting commission in the first place.

At the time, they argued this would ensure the process was “fair and independent.”

Why aren’t they supporting the same fair and independent process now?

Although the 2021 commission was criticized for not complying with open public meeting laws and for its lack of transparency, I am confident the commission would NOT make the same mistakes if it was reconvened. The press and the public would act as watchdogs to make sure that Democrats do not sabotage the process as they have been accused of doing in 2021.

Washington’s is still widely seen as one of the best systems in the country for redistricting because the public has a role in making sure that the results are fairly negotiated boundaries that do not benefit one party over another.


Possible outcome: Oust a senator who was elected fair and square

One possible outcome of this entire situation is that Sen. Torres could be “redistricted” out of her Senate seat, meaning the district boundaries would change enough that she is no longer a resident. How does ousting a Latina senator elected by a predominantly Hispanic district serve the Voters Rights Act? It doesn’t.

Shutting people out of the democratic process in any district is relevant for all of us – because if it can happen to them, it can happen to us.

I’ll be monitoring the developments on this issue and will report back to you.


Strategies to reboot education

Address learning loss

  • Target existing state and federal funds to address learning loss by providing targeted, high-quality tutoring and rigorous extended learning programs.

Support parental involvement

  • Clarify and reinforce parents’ rights in education by increasing and protecting parental participation in our K-12 school system.

Support school choice

  • Support charter schools as an alternative to traditional public schools.

Increase school safety


Important Clips: