And with a final concurrence from Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen, Washington state was found guilty in the famous Washington state Supreme Court case McCleary v. State. The lawsuit was filed in 2007 by the Network for Excellence in Washington State (NEWS), a statewide coalition that campaigns for “ample funding” for all Washington students, according to their website.
NEWS filed the lawsuit on behalf of the McClearys and the Venemas, two families with students in the Chimacum School District in Chimacum, Wash. The McCleary and Venema children were young when the case began, when they first sat in the Washington State Superior Court.
In 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled unanimously that Washington state was not meeting its “paramount duty” to provide “ample provision for the education of all children,” as stated in the case and Article 1 Section 9 of the Washington State Constitution respectively. The plaintiffs won at “virtually every stage,” as NEWS Community Relations manager Teresa Moore stated. The Supreme Court also defined keywords, such as “paramount,” “ample,” “all” and “education” in this stage.
In September of 2014, the Supreme Court held the State in contempt for failing to make significant progress toward education funding. The Supreme Court documents stated that they had “repeatedly ordered the State to provide its plan to fully comply” with the court order by the 2018 deadline. The document continued, explaining that Washington state “repeatedly failed to do so.” The Court filed for contempt and decided Washington state “must take immediate action to enforce its orders.”
On Jan 9, 2014, the Washington Supreme Court imposed a $100,000 per day penalty on the State for each day it remains in violation of the court order. The money fined is set to go toward Washington state education funding. The official deadline for the plan, as set by the Supreme Court, is the 2017–2018 school year, beginning in September.
State Senator Guy Palumbo called a solution for the McCleary decision the “most important thing” right now in the legislature. He called this year the “make or break it year,” as the deadline for a solution is fast approaching and he doesn’t view the legislature as far along as expected by the Supreme Court.
State Senator Maralyn Chase said that the state legislature is “not even close” to devising a plan. She said the legislature will most likely have go through the summer session and into September. Currently, the legislature is about halfway through. Each one is 105 days long.
Plans continue to unfold, among the republicans and democrats of Washington state. Director of the Center for Education at Washington Policy Center Liv Finne explained how she believes the democrats have no source of funding other than taxes.
“It’s interesting,” Finne went on, “that these democrats don’t want to go on record having supported a new tax.” The state needs anywhere between $3.5–4 billion to fulfill the court orders, a significant raise from the current $9–10 billion set for education.
NEWS stated that McCleary would require an average of at least $16,030 per pupil. With a current student population of 1,294 students, MTHS would see about $20,742,820 from federal funding. Washington state would also see an increase to about $45,000 a year in regards to teacher salaries.
The state is required to pay for nearly everything necessary in a school district. This includes transportation, teacher salaries, technology and most textbooks. However, as Principal Greg Schwab said, Edmonds School District (ESD) is found to not be completely funding all of these requirements.
Policy Advisor to Governor Jay Inslee Deb Merle, however, said that textbooks, along with funding for operating costs, such as light and water bills, all-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes was funded through the governor’s proposed 2017 budget plan. The only thing that the governor proposed that has not been solved is raising teacher salaries, according to Merle.
To fund what they already have costs about $2.5-3 billion, and to fully fund and raise teacher salaries would cost even more than that, she continued.
The state provides ESD with about 77 percent of the cost for teacher salaries, the other 23 coming from the annual financial levy, according to ESD Business and Operations Director Stewart Mhyre. However, Schwab said that is not nearly enough to cover how much ESD employees are actually paid. That’s where the “levy cliff” comes in.
A number of local levies were introduced in 2015, allowing school districts across Washington state to raise local taxes by 28 percent to supplement things the state does not. Schwab said that the levies fill in the gap of teacher salaries, along with textbooks and technology needs for students. However, the “levy cliff,” the name given to the end of levy contracts, will take this away and decrease the amount of money school districts can collect through local property-tax dollars. This levy cliff is expected to hit Washington state in January 2018 — halfway through the next school year. The only problem with the levy cliff, as explained by McDuffy, is that this would cause a decrease of $15 million in revenue. And without a clear answer on the McCleary decision, ESD has no way of creating a solid budget.
There’s clear frustration throughout the state with the lack of answers. A solution to the levy cliff has a deadline of April 30, but McDuffy said her School Board thinks that is too long to wait.
Two budgets are being proposed for the 2017–2018 school year, Schwab said. One for the “worst case scenario,” in which the levy cliff is fulfilled and the McCleary decision does not fill in the holes and one in which “everything works out” and the gaps dug by the levy cliff are filled.
If the problems posed through the levy cliff are not solved, McDuffy said that the district will have to decrease staff, increase class sizes and extracurricular, district-funded programs would be affected. Furthermore, Chase thinks teachers salaries should be raised significantly. She said that most of the teachers in ESD have masters degrees, but she doesn’t believe their pay matches those qualifications.
“It’s not that [ESD] doesn’t know how to teach people, [they] do,” she said. “It’s just about how.”
Schwab agreed, saying that he is completely behind raising salaries. He mentioned all the time and effort teachers put into their work, from buying school supplies out of pocket to grading tests and homework on their own time at home.
As for whether these budget changes were to extend to charter schools, a different type of public school that parents can send their children to out of choice, rather than geographical requirements, Chase and Palumbo disagree.
Chase is opposed to additional funding toward charter schools, saying that if she has anything to do with how the funds are allocated, all new revenue would be strictly to the general public schools. Palumbo, however, stressed the fact that charter schools are public schools, just a different form and the McCleary decision would most certainly extend to cover their financial needs as well.
Finne said that most charter schools hold low-income, minority students and, because the state does allow them to collect from local levies, they suffer. Chase also said that some of the republicans want to “ignore” the McCleary decision, which she thinks would be dangerous.
Palumbo believes some of the members of the republican caucus simply think the Supreme Court has overstepped their bounds, especially with the heavy daily fine. Finne sided with this ideology, calling it a “very dangerous precedent” and a mistake made by the Court.
The fine doesn’t make any sense to Finne and she said it’s unconstitutional for the Supreme Court to require an equal branch of government, the legislature, to pay a fine and the court will end up looking “weak” when they can’t enforce it.
“It’s an imaginary fine,” Finne laughed. “And a dangerous one.”
But if the Washington state legislature does not continue with trying to find a plan for the McCleary case, the court could do much worse than implementing a fine. Moore of NEWS said the state could invalidate the legislature, shut down public schools altogether or even throw legislatures in jail, to which Chase said she doesn’t think it will go that far, but she thinks it should — it’s a crime, she explained, to not follow court orders. But for those who want a decision soon, Chase continued, they need to rise up. It’s a matter of the people.
“[As constituents], we have to resist the moves that try to say we don’t have to fund our education,” she said.
On Jan. 26, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, teachers took to the steps of the capitol building in Olympia, Wash. to protest for better funds of education. Of the crowd, a handful of MTHS staff attended, including math teacher Nancy Paine, counselor Julie Peterson and science teachers Jonathan Tong and Adam Welman.
Schwab said the protests were vital, along with educating one’s own self on what’s happening in the legislature now.
“We all have a responsibility to make sure people understand; in addition to being educators, we’re also private citizens,” he said.
Whether or not the legislature feels the deadline will be met, it’s rearing up —just shy of 10 months away.
Chase said she hopes the constituents and students of Washington state will be pleased with the final decision, but she knows the legislature will have difficulties in the last steps of the process. Either way, compromise will have to be made by both parties.
With any decision that deals with this much money, Moore, Palumbo and Chase agreed, not every party will be completely happy.
“Everyone will have to dig in their heels,” Palumbo sighed.
Moore said she hopes it is completed by 2018 and the Washington state budget will see a change in numbers where it reads “public education” — no matter the difficulties and obstacles faced.
“We don’t elect our legislators based on what’s easy, we elect them based on what’s right,” she said.