On Jan. 5, 2012 the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in McCleary v. State that the State of Washington was not fulfilling its constitutional obligation to amply and equitably fund basic education for children across our state.
The Court was correct in its interpretation of the Washington State Constitution and its mandate that, "It is the paramount duty of the State to make ample provision for the education of all children residing in its borders."
The State has not provided the funds or resources for much of what is needed to provide our students with a high-quality education, leaving it up to local taxpayers to make up for these funding deficiencies by requiring larger levies to fund educational resources, such as: transportation, reduced class sizes, principals, librarians, counselors, nurses, fine arts, safety personnel, utilities, insurance, athletics and much more.
The purpose of levies are for communities to select and provide resources beyond what is considered basic education, however the State was relying on those local levies to fill the gap between what the legislature was funding and what is actually needed to provide what is considered basic education.
This deficient approach to school funding is particularly unfair to communities with lower-than-average property tax bases, such as ours and many other school districts in our region. School districts located in these types of "property poor" communities are forced to ask their taxpayers for higher tax rates in order to collect the same amount per student as districts with average or above average property values.
The McCleary Decision required the Washington State Legislature to begin taking immediate and significant steps toward fully funding basic education in order to comply with the Court's ruling to provide an ample and equitable educational funding system by 2018.
Our state legislators are currently working to develop a budget that will provide a "down payment" toward their constitutional obligation to the children in our state. There are many different opinions in Olympia on how much that down payment should be or how it should be implemented, but what is certain is the Court's order that it be significant and equitable.
There are some who say additional funding will not lead to increased student achievement. This is untrue, and our school district has proven it. Four years ago, our school district received two grants that provided additional funds to support a focused school improvement process. Our staff and students capitalized on that opportunity and have raised our district's graduation rate from 41 percent in 2007 to 78.8 percent in 2012. We expect that number will rise even higher with this year's graduating class.
School and youth advocates from all areas of our state are currently contacting their state legislators and encouraging them to make education funding their top priority. I am asking that those supporters in our community do the same. Let your legislators (listed below) know that investing in the future of our state and nation through high quality education is important to you and your community. Let them know that additional funding and resources does lead to higher academic achievement, because your community's schools have proven it.
15th Legislative District:
Senator Jim Honeyford
107 Irv Newhouse Building
PO Box 40415
Olympia, WA 98504-0415
Phone: (360) 786-7684
Representative Bruce Chandler
427B Legislative Building
PO Box 40600
Olympia, WA 98504-0600
Phone: (360) 786-7960
Representative David Taylor
428 John L. O'Brien Building
PO Box 40600
Olympia, WA 98504-0600
Phone: (360) 786-7874
-Dr. Rick Cole is superintendent
of the Sunnyside School District.