Congressman listens to teachers’ concerns in roundtable talk

Schools: Rep. Kilmer talks about budget, hears struggles to keep up with shifting standards

of the GatewayFebruary 5, 2014 

Congressman Derek Kilmer is the son of two educators. That’s why he thinks it’s important to take the time to talk with teachers.

While he was in town Friday, Jan. 24, from Washington, D.C., Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, sat down for an open forum with education associations. Representatives from Tacoma, South Kitsap, Central Kitsap, Bremerton and Peninsula shared concerns about federal education policy.

Kilmer came to give the “good, the bad and the ugly” on Congress’ most recent budget.

The good news is that some education funding that was cut during sequestration has been restored, Kilmer said. Title I grants have been financed at $625 million over sequestration levels. Special education, as well as summer- and after-school program funding has been restored to the level it was before the sequester, he added.

The bad news is there are still education initiatives frozen at sequestration levels. For example, school improvement project grants in Tacoma were not restored.

One concern for those in the room was nationwide standardized testing and ever-shifting standards mandated at the federal level.

Cristi McCorkle of the WEA Olympic Council said she sees overworked, stressed-out young teachers in her office frequently. Trying to train and retrain students for different tests, the most recent being the Common Core Standards, means hours of overtime for teachers in order to make children competitive with other schools, she said.

“It’s not about competition,” McCorkle said. “It’s about teaching kids.”

Peninsula Education Association President Jim Falcoccio echoed McCorkle’s concerns. He said he sees teachers physically unable to cope with the workload that comes with federal standards.

“I have never witnessed such frustration,” he said.

Kilmer recently signed a letter to Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, asking him to consider the state’s Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s request that the Department of Education renew the state’s Elementary and Secondary Education Act flexibility waiver. Under the waiver, the state can waive mandated set-asides and free up some schools from No Child Left Behind.

Kilmer’s father is now in his 48th year of teaching, his mother also was an educator, and he has two daughters who will be in the Peninsula School District at Artondale Elementary. He said he’s concerned about their future and opportunities.

“I think, like a lot of parents, I’m deeply invested in their education,” he said.

Reporter Karen Miller can be reached at 253-358-4155 or by email at karen.miller@gateline.com.

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