“It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders…” — Article IX, Section I, Washington State Constitution
Last week the state Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to appear before the court in early September and explain its reasons for failing to make adequate progress in the McCleary v. State of Washington funding case.
Two years ago, the justices found that the state was violating its constitutional obligation to amply fund basic education in the McCleary case. Lawmakers were given a 2018 deadline to fix how we fund K-12 schools.
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With last week’s ruling, it appears that the court and the Legislature are headed for a legal and political showdown.
According to the court’s order, “…The State is hereby summoned to appear before the Supreme Court to address why the State should not be held in contempt for violation of this Court’s order…” and laid out seven possible sanctions that could be imposed, including fines, ordering the sale of state property and invalidating the entire state budget.
Whoa. Them’s fightin’ words.
And while the justices and legislators slug it out over who has the power to do what to whom, Washington state’s 10-year achievement gap continues to grow in all grade levels in reading and math.
So I have to ask: What about the kids? Who is fighting for them?
At the League of Education Voters, we support an ample, equitable, stable education funding plan. While we supported the re-definition of “basic education” developed in 2009 (it includes smaller class size, full-day kindergarten, transportation, materials and supplies) upon which McCleary is based, we advocated that the definition should also include early learning and higher education.
During the past two years, we have grown increasingly uncomfortable with the current definition of basic education. It is neither ample nor equitable. And thanks to our over-reliance on local levies, it certainly isn’t stable.
We need a definition of basic education that puts students and their learning at the center.
A definition that encompasses the entire continuum of education, from early learning through higher education. A definition that recognizes that kids aren’t widgets and that learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum. A definition that embraces high standards for all. A definition that recognizes that students who need more support to reach high standards should get more support.
So what if instead the definition of basic education guaranteed that every Washington student receives high-quality early learning and attends preschool and full-day kindergarten?
What if the definition guaranteed every Washington student could read by third grade?
What if the definition guaranteed every Washington student graduated high school with a meaningful high school diploma that prepared her for college and the workforce?
What if the definition guaranteed each student access to affordable higher education, be it a two-year, four-year or technical degree?
What if the definition guaranteed the quality of a student’s education was not determined by his or her ZIP code?
We can do this. We must do this. Let’s do what works for kids.
That’s a definition of basic education that’s worth fighting for.
Chris Korsmo is CEO of the League of Education Voters, a statewide nonprofit organization.