More than half the number of people in Washington who actually vote consistently vote in favor of initiatives designed to support education and teachers.
More than half the number of people in Washington who actually vote consistently vote in favor of initiatives for reducing or eliminating or restricting taxes.
Some of those voters have to be voting for both initiatives.
I am sure there are legislators who want to follow the will of the people but can’t figure out how to do it. How can you decrease class size and add support staff and pay teachers more—all with less tax revenue?
And I understand that the proponents of each set of initiatives are avid supporters of their causes. If legislators find a new and creative way to get a little money for the state, the anti-tax group complains vehemently that they are disregarding the will of the voters. If they don’t find a new and creative way to get the money to pay for all the education initiatives—from class size to COLAs—then the educational community insists they are disregarding the will of the voters.
And of course they are. But which “will” wins?
I have to admit, I understand how some legislators might get frustrated.
When I first moved to Washington in 1989, schools still got a lot of funding from Department of Natural Resources revenue. Then came the state lottery, which was supposed to bring in lots of extra money for education. Except that as soon as that extra money started coming in, the legislators appropriated that amount less out of the general budget for education.
I remember when the economy heated up. Every year the teachers asked for more money. Every year the legislators said they would get to education later.
Then the economy tanked. Everyone had to take cuts—including education, which hadn’t really gotten the benefits of the boom!
And now, with the economy improving, even with the McCleary decision, even with the $100,000 fines on the legislature, we still don’t see the legislature fully funding education.
I have to confess, I know why teachers are frustrated!
The truth is, education has the state constitution on its side. The constitution says, “It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders.” I absolutely love how clear the Supreme Court decision was in the McCleary case:
- “Paramount” means the State must amply provide for the education of all Washington children as the State’s “first and highest priority … before any other State program or operation” not as one of many priorities that the legislature will get around to funding when they decide they can afford to (McCleary v. State, 173 Wn. 2d at 520).
- “Duty” means the State must amply provide for the education of all Washington children—it’s not an optional task the legislature can ignore (McCleary v. State, 173 Wn. 2d at 520).
- “Ample” means “considerably more than just adequate.” The legislature thought they were doing just fine with enough to get by. The Court said no, that enough to get by was not enough (McCleary v. State, 173 Wn. 2d at 484).
- The Court said, “For our purposes, the terms ‘education’ under article IX, section 1 and ‘basic education’ are synonymous” (McCleary v. State, 173 Wn. 2d at 524n). By the way, the Court also added a warning that the legislature could not reduce the services currently offered under basic education without a sound educational rationale. Not having the money to provide the services wasn’t an adequate reason to drop services. Basically, the only valid reason to make changes to basic education was to improve it.
- “All” means “each and every child” in Washington. “No child is excluded” (McCleary v. State, 173 Wn. 2d at 484). Of course, this last bit makes my heart sing because Highly Capable is now protected under basic education. That makes providing ample educational services to Highly Capable students part of the paramount duty of the state, protected by the constitution.
I went to the Listening Tour to report to the legislators on the education committee about how districts are using levy funds to augment the state funds to pay for basic education. According to OSPI estimates, districts in Washington are paying 85% of the cost of Highly Capable education out of levy dollars right now! Many other people told stories of how local levy dollars are being used to pay for basic education needs. In case you haven’t heard the ruling, the Court says NO levy dollars should be used for basic education.
Clearly, the State Supreme Court is frustrated too.