Local High School Students Protest Education Funding Cuts

The Center School prepares for an ART-IN on June 3

Photo credit: Nam-ho Park | Creative Commons

Tomorrow, June 3, students at The Center School (TCS) will protest funding cuts to the school’s arts curriculum with an ART-IN. From 2:10 to 4 p.m., TCS students will flood the TCS Commons (located above the stage at Seattle Center Armory) with student art.

There will be t-shirt and button-making supplies along with an open mic for poetry, music and student testimony. The event is open to the public, with invites sent to current students, parents, incoming freshman, the Seattle Public Schools (SPS) board and the media. 

The ART-IN coincides with a previously scheduled visit to TCS from SPS superintendent Larry Nyland. It’s the latest in a series of events — including a May 3 walkout and student and parent testimonials at the May 4 school board meeting — that students from the small, art-focused, college-prep high school hope will draw attention to what they see as SPS’ inequitable small-school funding model. 

SPS funds schools based on enrollment numbers, and while this means more money for schools with bigger enrollment numbers, TCS’ enrollment of 300 or fewer students means the school relies on mitigation dollars. These discretionary dollars awarded by SPS can be used for additional staffing, supplies, curriculum and student supports. As of publishing, TCS hasn’t received any of these funds for the 2016-2017 school year. That's not necessarily abnormal though some schools received mitigation funds in early March. 

The next round of mitigation funds [based on enrollment numbers] will be released in mid-June, with final mitigation dollars awarded in September, says Jon Halfaker, SPS executive director of schools. That, he says, is to “better respond to student and staffing issues when schools actually open.”

However, with no mitigation dollars to rely on while planning their budget, TCS teachers recently cut several art classes, including advanced drawing and painting, sculpture, higher levels of photography and AP studio art — changes many students aren't happy about.

“The art classes they cut are the classes that keep our juniors and seniors engaged,” says sophomore Isabelle Duniway, a student on the Committee of Students Concerned About Funding (CSCAF). “A lot of our upper classmen are being forced to enroll in [college credit program] Running Start simply because they want more art choices." That's bad news, Duniway says, because TCS no longer receives funding for students when they enroll in Running Start.

Everybody who came to The Center School had to take an active step in their education to come here, which shows so much caring about setting themselves up for success.

Duniway says students fear TCS’s community will suffer unless the strong arts focus remains. “TCS offers a really small, safe, caring community that takes care of people with learning disabilities and within the LGBT community,” she says. “We’re a community of diverse learning styles and it’s working: We are getting extremely high test scores.” 

Indeed, test scores listed on the SPS School Report site show that 95 percent of TCS’s 10th graders demonstrated grade-level proficiency in English language arts during the 14th to 15th school year (the district average is 75 percent). TCS also won a 2014 Washington Achievement Award for overall excellence and reading growth.

“Because we are a magnet and alternative school, everybody who came to TCS had to take an active step in their education to come here, which shows so much caring about setting themselves up for success,” says Duniway. “That’s how we built this incredible school environment and it would really be a shame if we couldn’t sustain that anymore.”

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