Follow the Money... See where your tax dollars are really going!
2003: 25,000 parents and teachers march with the Washington Education Association “Day of Action” Rally in Olympia (from the Washington Education Association website) Note: I was one of the people towards the back. This Protest March was in Response the Legislature’s threat to suspend funding for Initiatives 728 and 732 – a threat the legislature carried out a few months
The 2009 legislature passed House Bill 2261 calling it an education reform bill. But is it a step forward or two steps backward? There are two major problems with HB 2261. The first is that it delays true funding reform for at least nine more years (until 2018). But a bigger problem is that it eliminates the 1977 Basic Education Act (BEA) which was a hard won and important victory for public schools by establishing minimum teacher to student ratios (at about 50 teachers per one thousand students or about one “funded” teacher per 20 students. House Bill 2261 replaced this minimum standard with a nebulous:”whatever the legislature wants” school funding standard. By eliminating the 1977 BEA standard, the 2009 legislature was able to cut over one billion dollars in funding for public schools under the guise of education reform. The following brief history explains how this all came about. Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Let’s hope that we can learn from what happened in the 1970’s.
HISTORY OF OUR STATE’S FAILURE TO SOLVE THE SCHOOL FUNDING PROBLEM
The history of school funding in our State can be divided into four periods based on the proportion of school funding provided by the State versus the proportion of school funding provided by local levies. Before 1970, public schools were funded almost entirely by stable and dependable State sources of school funds. However, there was a recession in the early 1970’s which led the State legislature to reduce State funding for public schools. This led to a 1975 lawsuit by the Seattle School District which resulted in restoration of State funding to above or near the national average from 1978 to 1994. Beginning in 1994, there was a dramatic rise in corporate lobbying efforts which led to billions in corporate tax breaks and other corporate welfare give-aways. This led to reduced State funding for public schools and the gradual decline in school funding in our State such that we are now near the bottom of the nation in public school funding.
1889 to 1943: Our Founding Fathers write the Washington State Constitution and make school funding the “paramount duty” of the State legislature
Article IX, Section 1 of our State Constitution states, “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 2 further requires that “the Legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools.” Article VII, Section 1 further requires a “uniform system of taxation” and limits the regular property taxes paid by any taxpayer to 1% of the market value. As a consequence, from 1890 to 1943, public schools were funded almost entirely by stable appropriations from the State legislature to local school districts using a combination of State and County collected property taxes (with sales taxes and Business and Occupation taxes added in the 1930’s).
1944 to 1969: The gradual rise of Excess Property Tax Levies
In 1944, the legislature passes an “excess levy” provision for local school districts to provide additional funding above the 1% Constitutional limit on property taxes with a 60% super-majority of the school district’s voters. But resistance to additional property taxes was so high that few school districts pass “excess levies.” By 1960, local levies still accounted for less than 5% of public school funding.
1960 to 1970: The rise of public schools and national security
By 1959, concern over Russian satellites and the “technology gap” led to the Space Race and increased federal and State support for public schools in order to beat the Russians. Math and Science classes became increasingly important. John Kennedy uses school funding as a primary issue to defeat Richard Nixon in the 1960 Presidential election. Thus, the 1960s politically became the decade of "teachers power".
In 1961, Executive order # 10988 signed by President Kennedy stated that government workers have the right to bargain collectively with their employers. This was the match that set off the spark for teacher organizing.
In 1962, the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) won the right to represent all of the teachers in New York City and had gone on a successful strike. By 1964, Chicago, Philadelphia and Detroit teachers unions had won elections and were negotiating contracts.
In 1965: Passage of the Washington State Professional Negotiations Act, a one-page law requiring school boards to confer and negotiate with elected employee groups prior to final adoption of key policies. School boards resist the change as an infringement on their authority. But the Washington Education Association was for the first time granted the right to negotiate directly with school boards over their contract provisions.
1967: Legislature approves a collective bargaining law for classified school employees.
1968: The Tacoma School District negotiated our state's first true collective bargaining contract for teachers with the Washington Education Association.
1969: The Seattle School District negotiated a collective bargaining contract with the Washington Education Association.
1970 to 1977: High Levy Rates led to the collapse of the public school system
1970 to 1974 The Boeing Recession leads to a sharp decline in State funding for public schools and a sharp rise in excess property taxes
Due to a downturn in the State economy, and resulting declines in State tax revenues, the Legislature cut back funding for public schools. These cut backs were similar the cutbacks in school funding imposed by the 2009 legislature. However, there were no federal stimulus funds to help offset the State cuts. So local school districts attempted to make up for State cuts in school funding by passing increasingly higher local levies.
1972 to 1975: Teachers Revolt!
1972: The sharp decline in State funding led to school boards being forced to make drastic cuts in teachers which in turn greatly increased class sizes. This is nearly identical to the current financial problems faced by many school boards. These drastic cuts led to the first Teachers Strike in 1972 in the Aberdeen School District. After three days of pickets, the school board goes to court and wins a back-to-work order. Teachers reluctantly comply.
1973: The Aberdeen Strike was followed a year later by longer strikes in the Evergreen and Edmonds School Districts.
1973: Teachers in the Evergreen School District close schools for two weeks before a Superior Court judge issues an injunction. Teachers defy the order and refuse to return to class. The judge jails Evergreen EA President Fred Ensman and Action Committee chair Dick Johnson, with the threat that additional teachers, who continue to picket, could also be jailed. Two days later, the judge jails EEA Interim President John Zavodsky. The EEA then appoints a veteran female member as president, and EEA teachers march en masse to the courtroom to surrender for jail. The judge refuses to lock up a woman president or any of the teachers, but the other leaders remain jailed 45 days (43 for Zavodsky).
By 1974, there were teacher strikes all over the State in 9 different major school districts. Many poorer school districts were on the verge of bankruptcy.
1974-1975 Tax Payers finally Revolt
By 1974, local levies rose from the prior 5% of school funding to 32% of total school district revenues. These rapid increases in local property taxes were still not enough to keep schools solvent. The voters could not understand why their property taxes keep going up even though their schools were going broke. A similar paradox is likely to occur in the next couple of years. Finally, in 1974, voters rebelled. They voted repeatedly and overwhelmingly against local school levies.
1975 to 1976 Rich Schools versus Poor Schools
By 1975, 65 school districts, including the Seattle School District, and representing over 40% of the State’s school population, suffered “double levy losses.” These levy losses lead to huge differences between rich school districts that were able to pass local levies and poor school districts that were not able to pass local levies. Source: Cippollone, D.W. (1998) Defining a Basic Education: Equity and Adequacy Litigation in the State of Washington, in Studies in Judicial Remedies and Public Engagement Campaign for Fiscal Equity, Inc.
In response, the legislature contracted with Wally Miller, a former state budget director, to conduct an extensive study of public education finance and reform. The Miller Report concluded that Washington’s school finance system was “the major contributing factor in creating unequal educational opportunities among students across the state and in creating inequalities in the relative tax burden borne by property owners.” The Miller Report recommended a state wide uniform staff to student ratio, funded by the State legislature, of 1 staff to 20 students (or 50 teachers per thousand students).
Source: Miller & Associates (1975) Common School Financing and Reform: A Report to the Select Study Coordinating Committee of the Washington State Legislature, September 1975 (also called the Miller Report).
1975 to 1978 Class Wars and the History of the WEA
As schools were facing bankruptcy, and massive cuts in teacher funding and huge increases in class sizes in the early to mid-1970’s, the Washington Education Association (also known as the Teachers Union) became much more politically active and just about the same time that parents were becoming much more politically active. This proves the point that if school funding gets low enough during a recession, parents and teachers will eventually organize and take action.
In 1975, the legislature passed a law allowing teachers to bargain collectively (RCW 41.59). The new law, which was to take effect in 1976 specifically declined to make teacher strikes legal or illegal.
In 1976, the Washington State School Directors’ Association (WSSDA) formed a special school finance study committee. The developed a proposal which also employed a staff to student ratio similar to the Miller Report. They also proposed a “cap” on local levies to restore a “uniform system of public schools and to reduce the funding differences between rich schools and poor schools.
In 1976, Senator Augie Mardesich, a conservative Democrat from Everett and considered the most powerful legislator in the State created Plan II which eliminated the Teachers Continuing Contract law, leaving them without any due process rights for a year until a somewhat weaker version could be reenacted. Passage of this bill in Spring 1976 was probably the low point in the school funding crisis.
1976 to 1979 Parents Unite to Restore Adequate School Funding
In 1976, a group of parents formed what eventually became a State Wide Coalition of Citizens, Citizens for Fair School Funding. This group was formed to organize parents to lobby the legislature and increase public support for school funding in keeping with the Miller Report and later in keeping with the Doran One decision. This group was very successful in restoring school funding which is one reason we have named our new organization the “Fair School Funding Coalition” (see fairschoolfundingcoalition.org).
1977 to 1993: Court rulings force the State Legislature to reduce unstable local funding and restore stable and dependable State funding for public schools
1977 School Funding I: The Courts Tell the Legislature they must fund schools
In 1976, after the wide spread levy failures in the mid-1970’s, the Seattle School District sued the State legislature. (Seattle School District versus State, 90 Wn. 2nd 476, 585 P.2d 71 (1987).
Judge Doran found that the State legislature had failed to fully fund basic education. The State appealed this ruling to the Supreme Court. But the negative publicity of the legislature being found to have violated the State Constitution was such an embarrassment that the legislature was forced to act even before the Supreme Court made a final ruling.
1977: Basic Education Act (BEA) and Levy Lid Act:
In response to Judge Doran’s decision, and following the recommendations of the Miller Report and the WSSDA Committee and with public support generated by Citizens for Fair School Funding, the Legislature enacted the Basic Education Act (BEA) and the Levy Lid Act. The BEA mandated a minimum of 180 days of instruction and a minimum of 25 hours per week of direct classroom instruction for classroom teachers. (5 hours or 5 classes per day). Most important, the Basic Education Act for the first time ever guaranteed a minimum level of school funding set at a student to staff ratio of 20 to 1 (slightly lower for grades K to 3 and slightly higher for 4 to 12). The BEA was codified into law as full state funding for basic education (Revised Code of Washington RCW 28A.150.28A.510) and is also called the basic education allocation formula.
1977: Maximum difference between rich schools and poor schools set at 10%
The Levy Lid Act reduced excess levies to 10% of State and federal funding except in a few school districts which were “grandfathered” in at higher levy rates (including Bellevue and Mercer Island at rates just above 30%). These grandfathered school districts were supposed to “level down” over a period of four years in order to insure a “uniform system of public schools as required by Article 9, Section 2 of our State Constitution. However, the leveling down period was repeatedly extended by later Legislatures and as a consequence a truly uniform system of schools has never been enforced as originally intended by the 1977 Levy Lid Act.
1978: The state Supreme Court affirmed Judge Doran.
The Legislature complies with this paramount duty only when it makes ample provisions through regular and dependable tax sources. Excess levies are not “regular and dependable” sources, because they vary from year to year and from district to district. Excess levies may only be used to “enrichment programs.”
1978: WEA gets political and manages to defeat Senator Mardesich, in the Democratic Primary in Everett. Mardsich was supported by Boeing and other big businesses and had a load of money to spend on his re-election. He was also supported by conservative Governor Dixie Lee Ray. The WEA combined with the Firefighters Union and other unions to turn out over three thousand volunteers who door belled in selected precincts resulting in a win for a first time progressive Democratic candidate. The Vognild campaign message was; “Senator Mardesich no longer represents the voters in the 38th District. He has sold out to big business and forgotten about the employees who have supported him over the years. It was time for a new voice that represented everyone in the district.” The inherent message, Mardesich was bought by the corporations and Vognild was the peoples’ candidate. Firefighters put up thousands of yard signs throughout Everett.
1979: Local levies make up less than 10% of K12 school funding as a result of the Levy Lid Act going into effect.
While local levy revenues made up 32 percent of total school district revenues prior to the levy failures of 1975 that precipitated the 1977 school funding lawsuit, they fell to less than 10 percent of total school district revenues after the enactment of the Levy Lid Act. Property taxes were reduced which made homeowners happy and school funding from the State went up at least for a while.
By 1980, Washington State had risen to 11th in the nation in school funding. This was not a major burden on the legislature because we also had the 11th strongest economy in the nation in terms of income per population.
In 1981, an unanticipated recession created significant state budget problems. As a result, the legislature attempted to cut over $200 million from the BEA formulas and State support for schools. This led to the Seattle School District filing the second school funding lawsuit which was also decided against the State legislature (see School Funding II Below).
Source: Conley, D and Rooney, K.C. (2007) Washington State Funding Adequacy Study, See History Section 1.36. Education Policy Improvement Center. Eugene, Oregon. (Funded by WASA and WEA)
Also in 1981: The legislature also limited the authority of local school boards to determine teacher compensation by prohibiting school districts from providing teachers with salaries that exceeded the state funding formula. However, certain school districts were “grandfathered” with higher salary amounts (up to 6.3% higher in the Everett School District). Also in 1981, the legislature extended the time to eliminate grandfathering of levy lids above 10% for another 5 years.
1983: School Funding II (Seattle School District versus State, Thurston County No. 81-2-1713-1, 1983) arose after the Legislature attempted to recede from a previously established level of State funding. Judge Doran ruled that once the legislature has established 100% funding of basic education needs, it cannot reduce that funding level due to state revenue problems.
1985 Ongoing State revenue shortfalls forced the Legislature to reduce per foot funding for construction of public schools. As a consequence, the 1998 School Construction Task Force recommended that state support per square foot of school construction be rolled back to pre-1985 levels (adjusted for inflation).
1987 Legislature passes Schools for the 21st Century allowing schools and districts to spend 10 additional school days planning and implementing improvement programs including teacher and staff training.
1987 Legislature raised the State Levy Lid from 10% to 20%.
Source: Plecki, Margaret, L. (1999) Washington State School Finance, College of Education, University of Washington, downloaded from nces.ed.gov/edfin/pdf/StFinance/Washingt.pdf (see page 5).
In order to address widespread concerns that this would lead to a system of rich schools and poor schools, the Legislature also passed a Levy Equalization Bill (called the Local Effort Assistance Program (LEA) to Districts with above average tax rates (due to lower assessed values within the taxing district) but requires the passage of a local M & O Levy to qualify. Thus, districts which suffer “double levy failures” not only lose levy funds but also equalization funds. The 1987 Legislature also increased the base used to determine the levy lid from State only funds to State plus federal funds (federal funds typically being about 10% of the total, thus the real raise was from 10% of State funds to 22% of State funds).
Beginning in 1990, the Legislature began making appropriations from the State General Fund to the Common School Construction Fund. Prior to this time, school construction “state matching funds” had come primarily from the sale of timber on state school lands set aside to fund education by the Enabling Act of 1889. Unfortunately, the State Department of Natural Resources (DNR) grossly mismanaged these State lands and allowed over-harvesting of the State forests in the 1980’s which led to Endangered Species Act federal lawsuits and court-imposed restrictions on logging. Our State forests have never recovered from DNR mismanagement. By 2000, the State was transferring as much as 200 million per year to the school construction fund to “match” local school construction bonds. But because this amount was less than 20% of the actual cost of constructing and repairing schools, the Legislature also began manipulating the school construction formulas in order to illegally transfer the burden of building schools from the State to local homeowners. This in turn led to a dramatic rise in the
cost of school repair and new school construction to local school districts.
This particularly impacted growing school districts in areas with a high cost of living such as the Issaquah School District and the Snoqualmie Valley School District. The State formula eventually became so absurd that a “State Match” of 44% became a State match of 3% of the actual cost of school construction which led to 3 school construction bond failures in a row in the Snoqualmie Valley School District by 2008 placing the future of thousands of children at risk in our school district.
Statewide as much as 90% of all school construction bonds have gone down to defeat in the past 10 years resulting in over 100,000 children attending school in particle board boxes and a school construction and repair back log exceeding one billion dollars.
1990: Strikes I 6 major school districts closes schools across Washington as teachers demand higher salaries and lower class sizes. As a result, Gov. Booth Gardner establishes blue-ribbon "G-CERF" commission (the Governor's Council on Education Reform & Funding), which unfortunately failed to achieve any significant improvement for long-term education funding.
May 16, 1991, Governor Booth Gardner 1991 established the Governor’s Council on Education Reform and Funding (including Dan Grimm, Washington State Treasurer) which issued a final report in December 1992.
The WEA President signed the report but added the following concerns:
“The Council’s proposals alone will not solve the problems of an historically under funded school system.” (WEA Comments, page 52). .. Washington State ranks 25th in the nation in per pupil expenditures. “ (page 52). The plan does nothing to rectify this chronic under funding. .. The Council has produced a report which not only lacks an identified source of funding to pay for the proposed reforms, but which ignores the more immediate needs of an historically under funded system. .. Washington State ranks 49th in the nation in class size.
1992 Legislature passed the Performance Based Education Act (SB 5953): moving towards a performance based education system and establishes the Commission on Student Learning to develop a performance based assessment system of student learning and transfers the duty of establishing high school graduation requirements from the legislature to the State Board of Education.
In 1993, the Legislature passed the Education Reform Act (HB 1209) which specified a performance based education system and contained high expectations for student performance but failed to increase the funding needed to meet these higher expectations. Also in 1993, a Legislative Fiscal Committee was created and given the task of recommending a new educational funding formula.
Also in 1993, the voters passed Initiative 601 which limits the State growth in general fund spending to the three year average of the rates of population growth plus inflation. This limit went into effect in 1995. In order to exceed the spending limit, a two thirds vote of both houses or a majority vote of the people at a general election is required. This Initiative also requires the State legislature to fund any “new programs or increased levels of service under existing programs.” However, the legislature has repeatedly transferred formerly State funded programs to local school districts without adequate compensation (for example, see 1990 school construction funding discussion above).
In 1994, the Legislature commissioned a study on funding needs for special education. The study was conducted by the Institute for Public Policy and the Legislative Budget Committee with the help of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. Ironically (but predictably) this led to lower funding for special education rather than increased funding.
In 1995, the legislature revised the state special education funding formula for children with disabilities narrowing the number of categories from about 20 to only 2 categories based on age and adding a spending cap of 12.7% of the total student population and includes a “safety net” for school districts with unusual populations.
1995: : Joint Legislative Fiscal Study Committee on K-12 Finance (1995) Final Report to the Washington State Legislature, Olympia, WA. This study questioned the fairness and equality of high local levies and recommended reducing high property tax levies.
The report called for lowering local levies back to pre-1987 levels. Instead, the Legislature did the opposite, raising the levy lid first to 22% and then to 24%. In 1998, the Legislature raised the State Levy Lid to 22% and in 1999, the Legislature raised the State Levy Lid to the current 24%. This action continued the tendency of the legislature to illegally transfer the obligation for funding public schools from the State government to local homeowners and local school districts.
1997 to the present: Corporate lobbyists get billions in corporate tax breaks which leads to the current decline in State spending on public schools.
In 1998, the Legislature raised the State Levy Lid to 22% and in 1999, the Legislature raised the State Levy Lid to the current 24%.
In 1999, the Legislature also established the Academic Achievement and Accountability Commission. ( which was abolished in 2006). Once again, expectations of schools were raised without any increase in State funding for schools.
1999 to 2009: A Decade of Decline in School Funding
As late as 1997, Washington State was still above the national average in school funding. However, nearly every year since, there has been major declines in State funding for public schools. These declines occurred during both boom times and recessions.
In 2000, 72% of Washington voters approved Initiative 728 which designated a portion of state property taxes and lottery revenues to a Student Achievement Fund Flat amount for each FTE student to reduce class sizes or other programs. The Initiative also asked the legislature to increase teacher pay.
Also in 2000, voters approved Initiative 732 which established annual cost of living adjustments for school employees. Despite representing the will of the voters to reduce class sizes and provide teachers with Cost of Living wage increases, Initiative I 732 was temporarily suspended by the State Legislature for the 2003 to 2005 biennium in order to balance a 2 billion dollar State budget deficit. The Legislature claimed that Cost of Living adjustments for teachers was not protected as a part of basic education. Even when funded, the legislature has only funded Teacher COLA’s leaving the rest of the school employees COLA’s to be funded by local levies (unfunded mandates). (See also McGowan versus State 2002). This action meant that local levy funds have been increasingly consumed for paying for teacher and staff COLA’s rather than being used to fund “enrichment programs” which go beyond a basic education for students.
2001 federal “No Child Left Behind” Act is passed, a national accountability system with reading and math assessments as early as the Third Grade. The program was essentially an unfunded mandate leading to huge cost increases in local school districts which were not covered by the State or federal government.
In 2002: Pascall, G. (2002) Realities of Education Funding in Washington State: Why Schools are still struggling even after passage of two Education Initiatives, League of Education Voters Foundation, Seattle WA concluded that increasing dependence on local levies was inherently inequitable.
2003: WEA begins the year with the Jan. 14th 'Day of Action,' which included rallies in Spokane and Kennewick along with the biggest protest march and rally in Olympia's history. About 25,000 WEA members, students, parents, school administrators and other education supporters rallied in the state's capital to demand that legislators 'Keep the Commitment' to schools by upholding voter-approved Initiatives 728 and 732.
2003 The Washington Quality Education Study, funded primarily by the Washington Education Association, was released by the Rainier Institute. The study concluded that an additional 1.7 billion was needed to meet State and federal education requirements. This funding would pay for competitive teacher salaries, class size reductions, more adequate staff support and full day Kindergarten throughout the State. The author, Dr. David Conley, a University of Oregon professor, and his team created three prototype schools for elementary, middle and high schools. Each school was assigned numbers of students, staff and services. However, no action was taken on his proposal as the State of Washington was facing a $2.6 billion projected deficit.
2003 to 2004 I 732 COLA funds suspended by State Legislature
A mild recession caused the legislature to cut I 728 and I 732 funds for public schools. These became known as the Dino Rossi cuts and were a major campaign issue leading to the election of Governor Chris Gregoire in 2004.
2004 to 2005 The Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA) sponsored the Washington State Ample School Funding Project. This did not result in any increase in funding for public schools. In fact, school funding had declined rapidly in Washington State from 1997 to 2002.
2004 K12 Finance Work Group This was yet another study which failed to provide any additional funding for public schools. Final Report of the House of Representatives K12 Finance Work Group prepared by the Office of Program Research Staff, Denise Graham, Fiscal Analyst, Kristen Fraser, Counsel, and Susan Morrissey, Research Analyst. December 2004 stated: “State funding must be allocated to districts on a consistent and equitable manner.” “Our funding structure does not recognize regional cost of living differences across the State” “34 of our 296 school districts receive higher salary allocations for teachers because the state stopped short of fully equalizing district salaries in the late 1980’s.” “The state student transportation allocation formula was developed in the early 1980’s (and should be changed to be) based on actual miles rather than on weighted straight line miles.” This study advised the state to finish equalizing grandfathered districts levy allocations (in other words reducing the maximum levy rates in grandfathered districts to the State limit).
2005 The legislature created an Education study committee called Washington Learns (ESSB 5441) to conduct a study on how the legislature can best provide a stable source of funding for public schools. The Committee submitted an interim and final report. The final report was issued in November 2006. The report recommended phased in funding for voluntary all day Kindergarten and reduction of class size to 18 students per teacher. However, the report failed to recommend an adequate and stable source of fund funding for public schools. According to the WASA response to Washington Learns, “The final report of Washington Learns fails completely to address the fiscal crisis of our schools.”. It was the 8th State Report in a row which failed to find a solution to the school funding problem.
The 2005 Legislature also authorized JLARC studies of school transportation funding and school special education funding both of which are inadequately funded far below the actual costs. These studies also failed to find a solution to the school funding problem.
2005: WEA launches 'Take the lead,' a long-term campaign to improve school funding in Washington state. Unfortunately this program has also failed to find a solution to the school funding problem as school funding in our State continues to plunge in comparison to the national average.
In 2006, a bill was introduced in the Washington legislature that would formally make strikes by public school teachers illegal under Washington statute. HB 2808 (Rep. Nixon, R-45th District) would also give local judges the authority to fine striking unions up to ten thousand dollars a day for violations. This Bill failed to pass the legislature and within 2 years, Toby Nixon was kicked out of office.
May 9, 2007 Legislature creates the Education Funding Task Force (E2SSB 5627) with direction to produce a final report by September 2008. This continued the legislature’s trend of creating more commissions to study the problem rather than actually solving the problem. The task force was specifically charged with the task of coming up with a solution to the school funding problem. The Task Force held many meetings. But seldom even discussed the school funding problem. Instead it was repeatedly side tracked by issues ranging from full day kindergarten to increasing high school graduation requirements. Sadly without any funding no reform is possible.
On November 20, 2006, the Federal Way School District asked a State Superior Court to declare Washington State’s school funding system unconstitutional.
Source: See Federal Way School District versus State of Washington, available from legalwa.org.
Alleging that the State public school funding system is “arbitrary and irrational” and that it “fails to amply fund education in all school districts, including the Federal Way School District,” the complaint describes funding disparities that it claims are “not based on any geographic, demographic, student population, cost of living or other educationally relevant factor.” The Federal Way lawsuit was based in part on the fact that they received the lowest level of State funding of any school district in the State of Washington, at more than $1,000 per pupil below the State average and more than $3,000 per pupil below the national average. On November 2, 2007, King County Superior Court Judge Michael Heavey held in favor of the Federal Way School District, finding that the State’s method of providing salary funding was unconstitutional. Judge Heavey stated: “This court finds that basing funding levels on salary levels of 30 years ago is arbitrary and wholly irrelevant to the achievement of legitimate state objectives. . . . [T]hey violate the equal protection rights of Federal Way students, teachers and taxpayers.”
In 2007, the Washington Adequacy Funding Study noted that despite 30 years of rhetoric about increasing funding for public schools, and several Court decisions ordering the State legislature to fully fund public schools, and more than a dozen major studies all concluding that Washington K-12 schools were grossly under-funded, Washington K-12 public school spending as a percent of state spending had declined significantly from 1987 to 2005 from a rate of 27.1% to 23.1%.
Source: Conley, D and Rooney, K.C. (2007) Washington Adequacy Study, see Section 1.3.10, Figure 9, Education Policy Improvement Center. Eugene, Oregon (using data from the Office of Financial Management. Operating and Capital Expenditures by Function: All Budgeted and Higher Education Funds. 2005 Data Book. 2006 Janaury 19 (cited 2006 July 20) Available from: www.ofm.wa.gov/databook/finance/gt06.asp
The authors also noted that in real dollars adjusted for inflation, the amount spent per student had also declined significantly as had Washington’s average teacher salary which fell from $50,000 (in 2005 dollars) to $45,700, a decline of 10%!. As a consequence, Washington’s ranking compared to other States declined dramatically from being above the national average to being near the bottom of the nation in nearly every educational funding measure from per pupil funding to teacher pay to class size.
2007 NEWS Lawsuit: On January 11, 2007, a broad group of parents, organizations, coalitions, and school districts filed an adequacy lawsuit, McCleary v. Washington State, in King County Superior Court arguing that the state fails to fund a basic education for its children. The plaintiffs claim that the state’s school funding system prevents Washington schools from providing what is needed for learning, including reasonable class sizes, adequate personnel, facilities and technology, and programs such as music, art, and extracurricular activities. Because resources, personnel and programs are missing, the complaint asserts, many Washington students drop out of school and are not prepared to fulfill their responsibilities as citizens in a democracy and to compete in the global economy.
Plaintiffs include the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS), a statewide coalition that includes: the State PTA, the League of Women Voters of Washington, the Urban League of Seattle, the State Special Education Coalition, the Equitable Opportunity Caucus, the Minority Executive Directors Coalition, Protection and Advocacy System, the Washington Education Association, and a dozen school districts and the education associations in those districts. The sole defendant is the State of Washington.
Plaintiffs argue that the state’s current funding system is unconstitutional because it does not fund the Basic Education Program defined in Washington statutes. Plaintiffs are asking the court to rule that the state must “determine how much it will actually cost to deliver the Constitutionally required basic education to every child” and then fully fund that cost “with stable, dependable, and regular funding sources.”
Court briefs filed by the coalition call for an end to the "state's 29 years of foot-dragging and excuses for not yet fully complying with the Supreme Court's ruling in Seattle School District v. State," the 1978 ruling on school spending. The coalition's lawsuit seeks to force the Legislature to pay 100 percent of the cost to educate K-12 students.
This case was schedule to proceed to trial in the summer of 2008. However, for political reasons, it has been pushed back until after the 2008 election reasons and is now scheduled to go to trial in late August 2009 (see waschoolexcellence.org for updates).
2008: Bellevue teachers strike for 13 days to derail the district's requirement for mandatory, pre-scripted, minute-by-minute daily lessons downloaded from the district "curriculum web." The district threatened to seek a court injunction to force teachers back to class, but had to relent after a public hearing at which parents and community members blasted administrators for micromanaging away teachers' creativity and professionalism. The strike marked the first systematic use of member-driven Web-based strike communications: BEA members won the PR battle with parent e-mail lists and You Tube videos to share personal accounts of the issues at stake and why the district plan hurt student learning.
2003 to 2009: Public School Building Health: A Hidden Crisis
Nearly all buildings are subject to building codes which are regulations intended to insure the safety of occupants. Building codes are revised about every three years. The only buildings exempt from these rules are public schools. In order to keep the cost of school buildings down, safety codes for public schools have not been revised in more than 30 years. This means that the buildings school children are required to spend their days in are the least safe buildings in our State. Three main areas of concern include:
Air quality and ventilation, Water quality, and Protection from pathogens such as mold and mildew. Responding to concerns and complaints from parents and teachers, there have been several attempts to address this problem, both legislatively and from the Washington State Department of Health.
In 2005, Representatives Chase, Kenney, Santos and Hasagawa introduced House Bill 2177 requiring the testing of toxic mold in schools. The bill never even got a hearing.
Also in 2005, Senators Jacobsen, Rockefeller, Kohl-Wells, Kline, Franklin and Edie
Introduced Senate Bill 5029 which would requiring Safe Drinking Water in Schools There was also a companion bill in the House (HB 1123) on Safe Drinking water in schools sponsored by Representatives Kenney, Dickerson, McIntire, Morrell, Santos, Cody, Upthegrove, Hasegawa, Moeller, Kagi, Ormsby, Chase, Williams, O'Brien, Green, Sullivan, Sells, Wallace, and McDermott. This bill was never brought up for a vote.
Recognizing the lack of support for improving school building safety in the legislature, proponents have also tried to get these safety issues addressed administratively through the Washington State Board of Health by updating the School environmental health (EH) rule, chapter 246-366 WAC (CR 102). Several hearings on the proposed rule update have been held during the past 6 years generally with parents and teachers asking for better air and water quality monitoring while legislators are generally opposed due to concerns about the cost of making schools healthier. These hearings were held by the Board of Health’s Environmental Health (EH) Committee.
During public hearings in 2008, one parent described their child coming home with extreme fatigue, vocabulary loss, headache, bellyaches, and dizziness. Drinking water in her classroom was later found to contain elevated levels of lead. Another parent said her son would complain of terrible stomach pains before dinner every night. She later found out his school had high concentrations of copper in its drinking water.
One parent asked: “I know it will cost money to have safe drinking water in our schools. But how much is a child’s life worth?” Lead exposure in childhood is known to result in reduced brain size, increased aggression, and a greater likelihood of criminality as a teen and adult. The Department of Health estimates that 30% of schools in Washington have drinking water levels that exceed 20 PPBB for lead. It has been estimated that improving indoor air quality would reduce asthma rates by 20% saving our State more than $2 billion a year in health costs as well as greatly improve academic performance. The cost of implementing these safety reforms has been estimated to be about $12 per students.. less in school districts already in compliance.
In April, 2009, House Bill 2334 was offered by Representatives Dunshee, Williams, Hunt, Ormsby, White, Conway, Hudgins and Chase which would provide $3 billion in school construction and repair bonds. A portion of these funds were intended to cure health problems in our public schools. Those who voted against this bill included Representatives Warnick, Pearson, Anderson, Hope, McCune and Smith. The Bill eventually died in the Rules Committee.
On June 10, 2009, in their latest summary letter, the EH Committee stated that despite making numerous compromises to reduce the cost, the 2009 legislature included a clause in the final 2009-11 operating budget, passed April 2009 as ESHB 12444, in Section 222 prohibiting the Department of Health and the State Board of Health from implementing any new or amended school facility rules without approval of the legislature. It is known that due to the failure to maintain our public schools, many schools suffer from extreme toxic problems that may cause health problems in sensitive children. Given the rapid rise in asthma, allergies, leukemia, and other severe childhood health concerns, the failure to permit the revision of school health standards, essentially raising them up to the standards already existing for other buildings, is very troubling.
2009 House Passes House Bill 2261 Education Reform Bill … An Education Reform Bill which is clearly unconstitutional
While the Education Funding Task Force failed to come up with any additional sources of funding for public schools, several legislators on the Task Force did produce a bill which among other things delayed adequate funding for public schools until 2018. Even more important, it eliminated the minimal class size protections in the Basic Education Act of 1977 replacing the 20 students per teacher rule with a “whatever the legislature wants rule. “ Thus the legislature was able to cut a billion dollars in school funding under the guise of education reform.
On Page 16, lines 3 to 10 of House Bill 2261, minimum class size funding language is eliminated: Not only is there no guarantee of any actual educational reforms, but the prior minimum in school funding was also eliminated, meaning that the legislature granted itself the right to reduce funding below 1978 levels::
The formula adopted by the legislature shall reflect the following ratios at a minimum: (i) Forty-nine certificated instructional staff to one thousand average full time equivalent students enrolled n grades kindergarten through three; (ii) forty six certificated instructional staff to one thousand annual average full time equivalent students in grades four through twelve; four certificated administrative staff to one thousand annual average full time equivalent students in grades kindergarten through twelve; and (iv) sixteen and sixty-seven one hundredths classified personnel to one thousand annual average full time equivalent students enrolled in grades kindergarten through twelve. (Page 16, lines 3 to 10). Plain English: The 1978 Basic Education Act established minimum levels of teacher and staff to student ratios. The 2009 Education Reform bill eliminated those minimum standards.
February 2010: King County Superior Court rules that the Education Reform Act (House Bill 2261) is unconstitutional. “intending to fully fund Basic Education at some point in the future does not meet the Constitutional Paramount Duty to fully Basic Education Now. The Washington State Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the State’s appeal of the NEWS Decision in June 2011.
The State "cannot avoid the question of whether it is currently complying with its legal duty under Article IX, Section 1 by stating its intent to correct a legal violation sometime in the future."
"State funding is not ample, it is not stable, and it is not dependable," the court ruling declares. "Local school districts continue to rely on local levies and other non-State resources to supplement state funding for a basic program of education."
April 2011: Ross Hunter Chair of the House Ways and Means Committee submits PSHB 1087.
Ross admits that his 2011 Appropriations Bill does NOT comply with the State Constitution.
But even though Ross admits that PSHB 1087 is unconstitutional, he submits it anyway!
Will the State Legislature Fail to Make the June Payment to Public Schools for Basic Education for the first time in State history???
A portion of his bill suspends the June 2011 Monthly payment for Basic Education to Public Schools for the first time in State History – a provision which would cut as much as an addition $400 million in funding from the current year budget for Public Schools. This is on top of the $3 billion in cuts to Public Schools during the prior three years.
It is difficult to understand why our legislature has consistently refused to fund public schools. Perhaps it is a political decision. Every election year, legislators talk about school funding, but then they fail to follow through after the election.
But there may be another reason. The wealthy corporations who supply the funding for re-election campaigns don’t really want to pay more taxes. And requiring wealthy corporations to pay their fair share in taxes is what it will take to actually fund public schools.
So the game goes on. Year after year. More empty promises and unfunded mandates from elected leaders and more tax breaks for wealthy corporations instead. In this respect, House Bill 2261 is no different from any other the other education reform bills before it. It does nothing. But that is exactly what it was intended to do.
The question this time is whether the public in general and parents in particular will let the legislature continue to get away with cutting billions in funding from our public schools. If things get bad enough, we may once again see a demand from parents to restore school funding. That is our hope. And it is why we have started the Fair School Funding Coalition. We hope you will join us.
Regards, David Spring M. Ed.