Kyle Stokes

Youth & Education Reporter

Kyle Stokes covers the issues facing kids and the policies impacting Washington's schools for KPLU.

Kyle joined KPLU after nearly three years covering education in Bloomington, Ind., where he helped launch a reporting collaboration between NPR and member station WFIU. His work for that project, called StateImpact Indiana, earned him a National Edward R. Murrow Award from the Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA), along with recognitions from the Online News Association and Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI).

Kyle earned his degree from the Missouri School of Journalism. He worked in Columbia, Mo., as a producer for NPR member station KBIA and a reporter for NBC affiliate KOMU. He graduated in 2011.

The Minneapolis native is hopelessly devoted to his Minnesota Twins — sorry, M's fans. Try your luck hooking him on the Sounders, though.

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Kyle Stokes / KPLU

It's looking less and less likely state lawmakers will drop a graduation requirement currently standing between hundreds of Washington high school seniors and their diplomas.

This year, roughly 2,000 high schoolers passed all the tests they needed to graduate except one: biology. But with time running out in their session, legislators remain deadlocked over a proposal to drop biology as a graduation requirement.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU News

(Corrects that Jinkins was not in the car with her wife, Laura Wulf, and corrects spelling of Wulf's name.)

State Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, was on the way to the airport with her son on Friday when they got the news: the U.S. Supreme Court had made same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states.

The first openly lesbian lawmaker in Olympia, Jinkins married long-time partner Laura Wulf in 2013. There in the car, Jinkins says she teared up. Her son got quiet.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Federal education officials have opened an inquiry into whether the University of Washington properly handled the case of a student who reported an instance of sexual violence, according to a statement from the school.

The investigation adds UW to a list of more than 100 colleges nationally — including Washington State University and Whitman College — where the U.S. Department of Education is investigating compliance with federal laws protecting victims of sexual assault or harassment.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Seattle school district officials did not warn Garfield High School that a student — now suspended for inappropriately touching two female classmates in their hotel room on a choir trip to New Orleans — had been expelled from a private school for similar misconduct in the past.

But a report the district released Monday also laid some blame for the groping incident with Garfield's choir teacher, saying her disregard for district policy preventing male and female students from entering each others' hotel rooms created "much greater opportunity" for something to go wrong on the trip last March.

Many Garfield choir students and parents have rallied to the defense of the veteran teacher, Carol Burton, who is now on administrative leave as Seattle Public Schools officials review her handling of the trip.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Washington state's first charter school is getting another second chance.

State charter commission members voted 4-3 against ending public funding for Seattle's First Place Scholars school Thursday afternoon, saying new leadership had made great strides to stabilize the school after its first chaotic months in operation.

They did so despite lingering doubts about whether the school would have enough cash to remain open into next school year — concerns commissioners had ordered school leaders to address in an ultimatum two weeks ago.

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A Garfield High School student might have groped two classmates while on a school choir trip to New Orleans in March, a Seattle Public Schools investigation has found.

The district also says the school's choir teacher and chaperones were drinking during the trip, and that one chaperone had "inappropriate contact with the student while under the influence of alcohol," according to a district statement.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

A state commission has decided it will wade into the labor drama that's pitted many Green River College faculty members against the school's administration.

In a time of tight budgets and tense contract negotiations at the Auburn community college, the state's Public Employee Relations Commission will appoint an examiner to handle a faculty complaint that school administrators' proposal to lay off several faculty union leaders amounts to an unfair labor practice.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Seattle school board members agreed to become partners in the city's new preschool program under an agreement that broadly defines the district's role in the pilot project.

Indeed while board members approved the document by a 5-1 vote Wednesday night, many also expressed concerns that the deal left too many unanswered questions about the district's role and responsibility in the program.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

State officials issued an ultimatum to Seattle's First Place Scholars charter school on Wednesday: Fix a host of academic and financial problems within two weeks or lose public funding.

Specifically, First Place staff must provide a "viable expense budget"  by June 15, along with detailed evidence of how the school is serving its English language learners and students receiving special education services, outlined the warning letter issued by the Washington State Charter School Commission.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Teacher walkouts that closed schools in dozens of Washington school districts this spring might resume during the next school year if lawmakers don't approve a budget that meets teacher demands, state and local union leaders say.

Specifically, the Washington Education Association will "support local strikes throughout the state" if the new budget does not include the larger pay raises and across-the-board class size reductions the teachers union has demanded.

"The hope would be that the legislature would fulfill its obligation," WEA spokesman Rich Wood said.

David Goldman / AP Photo

More than 2,000 high school seniors in Washington state appear unlikely to graduate this year because they didn't pass a required biology test.

But while their predicament has caught Olympia's attention, a last-minute push to let those students get their diplomas anyway appears to have stalled in the State Senate as lawmakers debate what tests to link to graduation going forward.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Teachers in Tacoma have decided against joining the wave of walkouts that have closed some of Washington's biggest school districts this spring, with the union voting Tuesday to hold an alternate protest.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU News

Kyle Preston, 24, is two quarters away from completing a degree from a program Green River College has proposed to cut.

Preston is one of a handful of students taking classes in auto body technology at the Auburn community college — one of three small trade programs administrators have put on the chopping block because of what could be a $4.4 million budget shortfall.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Teacher union protests that have rolled through Washington school districts for nearly a month now reached a climactic moment Tuesday as thousands of Seattle teachers walked off the job for a one-day strike, leaving schools in the state's largest district closed.

An estimated 4,000 teachers picketed at eight high schools in the morning before marching more than two miles through downtown Seattle in the afternoon, railing against legislative proposals they say leave them underpaid and overwhelmed in classrooms.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

After expressing doubts about the legality of ongoing teacher walkouts, state Republican lawmakers have scheduled a hearing on a bill that would block the state from paying a striking teacher's salary or benefits during the strikes.

Spokane Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner in a statement said teachers are making political points with children bearing the cost. "These strikes use our children as a political football," said Baumgartner, one of the bill's sponsors.   

The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

A task force is getting ready to make a formal recommendation for whether Seattle Public Schools can shuffle their bell times to let middle- and high schoolers get more sleep — and if they can, present options on how to make the change.

But some members of the task force aren't happy. Advocates who've pushed for years for earlier start times for secondary students say they're concerned district officials have taken the best plan off the table prematurely, and have instead been shopping inferior options around for public comment and review.

AP Images

For years — decades, even — problems with how local property taxes fund public schools have vexed Washington lawmakers.

Now, they may have mere weeks to solve them.

Lawmakers are still hashing out a property tax system overhaul that seeks to end school districts' reliance on local levies to pay expenses the state's supposed to cover. Coming up with a solution was a key demand of the state Supreme Court's McCleary decision.

But lawmakers from both parties didn't file bills addressing the levy issue until mid-April. Kim Justice, senior budget analyst with the left-leaning Washington Budget and Policy Center, says they've been procrastinating.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Two weeks from now, a teacher walkout will have impacted one out of every four of Washington state's 1 million public school students.

That's after Monday's confirmation teachers in Seattle Public Schools would join colleagues in 28 other districts in approving a "one-day strike" to protest state lawmakers' stances on several key education issues.

Kyle Stokes

An investigation into who altered students' answers on state standardized tests at Beacon Hill International School has found three district employees breached protocols designed to protect exam materials from tampering, Seattle Public Schools officials have announced.

But a months-long investigation still hasn't concluded who altered the test materials themselves, a district spokeswoman said.

Seattle Public Schools officials placed two of those employees — Beacon Hill principal Po Tang and ELL teacher Judy Eng — on paid administrative leave Friday. The third who broke the rules, former assistant principal Michele Nishioka, left the district for another job last July.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

On Wednesday, Sedro-Wooley teachers walked off the job for a day. On Thursday, Bainbridge Island and Burlington-Edison teachers plan to do the same.

After that, seven more local teachers unions have approved similar "one-day strikes" as the Washington Legislature convenes a special session to finish a two-year state budget — a pocketbook issue for educators, who say neither political party's spending plans do enough to reverse six years of stagnant wages.

Though the Washington Legislature closed its regular session without reaching a budget, it remains on track to fulfill the state Supreme Court's schools funding mandate, the state's top lawyer said in a legal filing Monday.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson, charged with defending state lawmakers in the ongoing McCleary case, wrote a progress report to the court saying spending proposals from both the state House and Senate include "historic" increases in K-12 education funding.

Now all that's left, Ferguson argued, is to reach a deal in the special session which starts Wednesday.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

For nearly three years, members of the University of Washington's top governing board regularly violated state public meetings laws by discussing official business during private dinners, a King County judge ruled Friday.

The UW Board of Regents discussed official business during 24 of these "dinner meetings," held at the home of the school's president, between January 2012 and September 2014, according to an order from Superior Court Judge Laura Inveen.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Local and federal law enforcement officers in Seattle announced Thursday the arrests of more than 90 suspects in a targeted effort to end street-corner drug deals and related violence in the downtown corridor around Third Avenue & Pine Street.

Seattle Police also announced stepped-up enforcement and outreach efforts in the nine-and-a-half blocks flanking Third & Pine. The swath is marked by the highest concentration of criminal activity in the city, including what Mayor Ed Murray called an "open-air drug market" not far from the city's world-class farmer's market.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Seattle teachers will decide whether they want to walk off the job for one day, likely in early May, to express frustration over the progress of state budget talks in Olympia.

Building leaders for the Seattle Education Association, voted Monday night to recommend the union's 5,000 members join at least eight other local teachers unions in western Washington that have already approved similar "one-day strikes."

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

A U.S. Senate committee advanced a bill to re-write the federal No Child Left Behind Act this week, raising hopes that Congress may finally take action to officially scrap the law's tough, but outdated systems for holding schools across the nation accountable for students' success.

The proposed "Every Child Achieves Act" shifts a lot of federal powers to education officials at the state level. Though national mandates to give students standardized tests every year would remain in place, states could decide for themselves how to use test results to rate schools and determine whether students are on-track for success in college or a career.

David Goldman / AP Photo

Leaders of eight local teachers unions announced plans Friday to hold "one-day strikes" beginning next week in hopes to express frustrations with the progress of state budget talks in Olympia. 

Teachers in the Arlington, Lakewood and Stanwood-Camano districts will walk out on Wednesday, April 22, according to a press release from the Washington Education Association. On Friday, April 24, Ferndale and Bellingham teachers will do the same.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Late last year, Elijah Falk was just another eleventh grader at Seattle's Nathan Hale High School who had never heard of the Smarter Balanced Assessments.

Then a friend told him all about it — that the test was more than eight hours long, required for every high school junior in Washington state but, in the end, mostly unnecessary to earn a diploma.

Falk was shocked.

"The huge amount of testing I've had to go through during my short time as a student— it's taking away from my time in the classroom," Falk said. "That kinda crosses a line where it's not helpful."

John Froschauer / AP Photo

For all the things that divide Washington state lawmakers' competing budget plans, K-12 education spending doesn't appear to be one of them.

Budget proposals from Senate Republicans, House Democrats and from Gov. Jay Inslee have all called for between $1.3 billion and $1.4 billion in new schools spending to satisfy the Washington Supreme Court's McCleary funding decision.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

Seattle School Board president Sherry Carr would rather Washington had not entered the charter school game in the first place. But eventually, she says the state's largest district may have to decide whether it wants to play.

Only one Washington school district, Spokane, currently decides whether to allow applicants to start charter schools within its boundaries and oversees their operations once they open; they're the state's only local "charter authorizer" — for now.

Kyle Stokes / KPLU

This week, eleventh graders at Seattle's Garfield High School were supposed to start taking a state- and federally-required standardized test of their English skills.

But more than 200 Garfield juniors, who don't need to pass the exams to graduate, are refusing to take Smarter Balanced assessments, forcing school administrators to postpone giving the exams until they could come up with a new testing schedule.

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