The state legislature’s solution to the basic education funding mandate of the McCleary decision didn’t stay resolved for long | Columns & Letters | Spokane | Interior of the Pacific Northwest
Ia state that likes to think of itself As a commitment to social justice, the way we funded schools prior to 2017-18 provided children in high-land-value school districts with access to an education that children in low-land-value districts did not. often had not. Not only is this shameful, but in a 2012 decision called McCleary, the state Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional. New funds were provided, but simply spending more money did not solve the problem.
The court warned us not.
In the McCleary case, the court ruled that our state’s constitution required the state to pay all basic education costs and found that too many school districts were instead covering basic education costs using local levy dollars to do it.
This meant that in school districts with high property values, where people paid more taxes, children received not only basic education, including continuing and technical education, bilingual services and special education, but also sports, drama, special academic programs, field trips. and events. Some districts with low land values struggled to pass levies and fund the basics, while some of those districts that passed levies still could not raise enough money to cover the costs of the basic education.
The court ordered the legislature and the governor to begin passing budgets that amply funded basic education for every child, regardless of where they grew up.
In 2017-2018, the state spent billions of new dollars on education. Governor Jay Inslee celebrated by saying “finally, our legislature is providing the funding necessary to cover the basic costs of our K-12 schools.” But just five years later, districts again need local levies to fund basic education.
Central Valley, for example, spends $4.5 million and Cheney about $1.7 million of their own money on special education, which should be fully funded by the state. Local districts use the funds collected to pay for transportation, food services and transitional bilingual education programs.
HHow did we spend billions more on education and then end up in almost the same place?
The new billions the Legislature appropriated were to make up for shortfalls in transportation budgets, fully fund special education, fund class size reductions from K-3, fund remedial services for students struggling and bilingual education, and bring some salaries up to market rates. School levies were to be used for programs not covered by the state’s definition of basic education.
But the state agreed that the new funds could also be spent on raises, and once that happened, the teachers’ unions demanded it. I have absolutely no problem paying teachers well, and the unions were just doing their job. Moreover, the contracts were the result of collective bargaining.
So what is the problem? Well, we have to understand in these salary negotiations that principals and largely voluntary school boards are sitting across from negotiators who are fully aware that if they drag out talks until August, the school board will be under pressure to open classes on time. Over the summer, when the new funds poured in, strikes, timed to coincide with the start of the new school year, were authorized and discussed across the state, including the Spokane and surrounding districts.
To avoid strikes, some districts on the West Side accepted increases of more than 15%. As new state funds poured in, the Mead School District agreed to a new contract in 2018 with a 15% raise. The bar was fixed.
In the end, the teachers’ union bragged that its “members in school districts across the state negotiated historic pay increases.”
The problem is that after the “historic salary increases”, the money that was supposed to largely fund all basic education programs and salaries went overwhelmingly to salaries.
But simply blaming the current situation on wage increases is too simplistic. The court had warned that “Putting more money into an outdated system will not succeed”. He warned “…fundamental reforms are needed if Washington is to fulfill its constitutional obligation to its students.” But fundamental reform is hard, it’s easier to spend more money, and that’s what the Legislative Assembly has done.
The Legislature can claim that it has sent enough money and if the districts have not spent it as the state model suggests, it is not on the Legislature. There is a point to underline here, but the State distributes the funds according to the needs of the pupils and the schools calculated over the period 1970-2010. Districts trying to meet the needs of 21st century students must rely on local levies.
Bend of September, a committee is supposed to give advice on how to solve this problem. Its recommendations must be direct and bold. November voters must elect lawmakers who have the backbone and spleen to ensure that public funds are spent on providing basic education to all children.
Here are three simple but politically difficult recommendations that would go a long way toward achieving a fairer funding system.
The state should provide each district with the same fixed dollar amount per student. This amount must be considerably higher than what is needed to sufficiently fund basic education.
Limited upward adjustments to the per pupil amount should be made for special education and for areas with high remediation needs and high housing costs. However, the cost of housing adjustments should be based on large metropolitan areas, not on a district-by-district basis.
The Legislature must cement the maximum amount per student that can be spent on basic education salaries and limit the use of local levy dollars to only fund programs and positions not covered by the definition of education. state basis.
In his McCleary ruling, the court wrote that “…the legislature has an obligation to review the basic education curriculum as the needs of students and the demands of society change”. Reassessing basic education to meet modern needs and adjusting financing systems to ensure that funds are spent where they are needed and enough to cover basic education costs will require considerable legislative effort. But this effort is the primary responsibility of the legislature. Abide by McCleary may be a box that many legislators think they have checked, but their work is not yet done. ♦
Bill Bryant, who served on the Seattle Port Commission from 2008 to 2016, ran against Jay Inslee as the Republican candidate in the 2016 gubernatorial race. administration of the Nisqually River Foundation and was appointed by Governor Chris Gregoire to serve on the Ecosystem Council of the Puget Sound Partnership. He lives in Winthrop, Washington.