(The Center Square) – Liv Finne, education director of the free market Washington Policy Center think tank, used a sharp dip in reading and math since 2020 for U.S. 13-year-olds to criticize Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision to close schools during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to new data from the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, the average scores from tests given last fall declined by 4 points in reading and 9 points in math, compared to tests given in the 2019-2020 school year, and are the lowest in decades.

On March 13, 2020, Inslee ordered a statewide school closure to slow the spread of the then-novel coronavirus.

NAEP results, Finne wrote in a Tuesday blog, “reveals the harmful impact of these decisions on children.”

She went into some detail about how schools were re-opened.

“That summer, the state Department of Health said schools could re-open with certain guidelines,” Finne said. “Private schools and independent public charter schools re-opened, yet Governor Inslee kept public schools closed. Over the winter of 2020-21, the governor favored teachers by allowing them to be first to get the new vaccine. Still, the teachers union pressed to keep public schools closed.”

She continued, “In March 2021 Governor Inslee said schools could partially reopen, due to mounting evidence that his shutdown was inflicting psychological harm and distress on children. Even then public schools were slow to re-open fully.”

Catholic schools or public chater schools that were opened to in-person instruction did not suffer COVID-19 outbreaks, Finne contended, in comparision to public schools that were closed during that same period of time.

She continued her broadside against Inslee and the majority Democrat state Legislature.

“Governor Inslee made many mistakes that hurt Washington’s 1.1 million public school students,” Finne noted. “He kept the schools closed to full-time in-person instruction the entire academic year of 2020-21. He blocked bills to give parents access to the private schools that were open. He and legislative leaders blocked the opening of new charter schools, and instituted a policy of funding discrimination against charter school families, one that is still in place today.”

House Bill 1615, allowing families to use their share of state education funds to gain access to private or home-based education, was killed in committee during this year’s legislative session.

In the prior session, four school choice bills – House Bill 1215, House Bill 1555, House Bill 1633 and Senate Bill 5205 – failed to pass the Legislature.

The 2021 session also saw House Bill 1195 to extend the authorization of new charter public schools to 2026 go nowhere.

“Also, this session, and in the previous sessions, the Democrats blocked bills to provide LEA [Local Effort Assistance] funding to charter schools, maintaining the state’s policy of funding discrimination against charter schools,” Finne emailed The Center Square. “They were given a budget proviso of about $1500 per charter school student this session and last session, but they won’t put this into law. Putting this into law would give charter schools some semblance of stable funding. Instead, they have to fight for this money every year.”

The Local Effort Assistance Program in general is aimed at funding districts unable to raise enough through local levies because of low property values. In 2019, the state agreed that tribal compact schools could access LEA money, prompting charter school proponents to say that precedent should apply to them as well.

The Center Square reached out to the Governor’s Office for its take on Finne’s blog.

“I’m baffled by her belief that private/charter K-12 schools were treated differently than public K-12 schools – under the emergency orders, they were all grouped together and treated the same,” Inslee spokesperson Mike Faulk said in an email. “Her claims about COVID outbreaks at these different institutions are not attributed to any source, and it seems highly unlikely people working at these institutions lived and worked in a protected bubble. DOH would be your best source for that data.”

The pandemic forced Inslee to make difficult choices, he added.

“No one questions the learning loss or the mental health impacts,” Faulk said. “The mechanism by which the governor forced schools to reopen was through an emergency declaration to protect the mental and behavioral health of young people. But first and foremost, our goal was to save lives, and we reopened schools as soon as it was reasonably safe based on the recommendations of health experts.”

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