With regard to the letter to the editor published recently on Rep. Cathy Dahlquist’s effort to create accountability and fairness in the state-funded K-12 Alternative Learning Experience programs, some key facts were overlooked in the author’s commentary.
While I appreciate the author’s passion for the positive aspects of ALE, the program he is defending had a history of abuse. Last year the Washington State Auditor questioned the more than $27 million in ALE expenditures paid to 67 school districts during the 2010-11 school year. As the ranking member of the House Education Committee, Rep. Dahlquist reviewed this report on the fraud and the misuse of local school district money.
I encourage people to read the auditor’s report at http://www.sao.wa.gov/local/Documents/ALE_accountability_audit_2011-2013.pdf.
Only 14 percent of the expenditures were spent on reading, writing, English, math, science, geography and history. That means that only a fraction of taxpayer’s dollars were spent on areas of curriculum that are central to educating children. More than 42 percent of the payments were flagged for noncompliance with state law. Taxpayers paid in excess of $61,000 for private horseback riding lessons, $460,000 for private piano lessons, $136,000 for ballet and gymnastics, $109,000 for guitar lessons in addition to family trips, summer camps, private ice skating lessons and musical instruments, just to name a few. All of these things were paid for with public education dollars.
Not only were these curriculum areas out of compliance with the law and therefore contradictory to the intent of the program, but were difficult to justify.
Superintendents were being paid incentives to enroll students into their districts and parents were being paid stipends to transfer their homeschooled children into these programs. These questionable expenditures compelled Rep. Dahlquist to find a solution. She proposed an amendment regarding the ALE system that provided accountability, fairness and equity in the K-12 system. The amendment, which was drafted in collaboration with traditional homeschool advocates, was thoroughly deliberated on the house floor and unanimously approved. The amendment removed loopholes that lead to abusive spending and did not result in the closing of the alternative school that once served the Plateau area.
Public education is Cathy Dahlquist’s greatest passion. Protecting local school funding is at the top of our priority list as your representatives. We do not support cutting funds to any specific education program or to education in general; however, we do believe that funds must be spent appropriately. We must responsibly allocate education dollars for the sake of not only the taxpayers but for the children. Both Rep. Cathy Dahlquist and I will always work to protect our education funds and support our local schools as they seek to improve the quality of education for our kids.
Rep. Christopher Hurst
31st Legislative District