By Rep. Dave Quall | Special to The Seattle Times
Business as usual is simply not working when it comes to education funding. Our paramount duty as a state is to educate our kids. It's time we fulfill that duty and put our money where our mouth is, literally.
Friday, June 6, 2008 IN 1978, the Washington Supreme Court issued the landmark "Doran Decision," ruling that the state was not meeting its constitutional responsibility to "make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders." According to the court, we failed to define "basic education" and come up with a way to fund it without relying on local levies.
Fast forward 30 years. We are back in court. At a time when school districts around the state are on the brink of bankruptcy and parents are outraged over statistics suggesting our students aren't making the grade, it's no wonder legislators are under fire to fix education funding.
How did this happen?
The first problem is one of semantics, but as any lawyer can tell you, semantics count. The terms "ample provision" and "basic education" mean different things to different people.
We came up with definitions for these terms in the 1970s when nobody thought that computers would be as basic an education tool as pencils and paper. And who could have predicted that ample provisions would eventually be eaten up by soaring health-care and transportation costs?
The second problem is one of process. In the '70s, we developed a series of funding formulas — 14 to be exact — to calculate what the state pays a district for everything from transportation and instruction for children with disabilities, to operations and administration. The formulas are outdated, too complicated, and fail to account for today's real costs of educating our children.
More money doesn't necessarily add up to more support for schools. One example is funding for teacher raises. Every time the state gives money to a district for teacher raises, districts are required to provide raises for the rest of their staff. It's a bittersweet gift for a cash-strapped district.
Ultimately, the problem is as complicated as the solution. Local districts are facing their own challenges from declining enrollment and soaring costs. Unfunded mandates from the federal government further exacerbate the problem.
Bottom line: Most school districts do not have the resources they need to provide our children with the quality basic education they deserve.
So how are legislators going to fix this problem?
We're going to start from scratch. It's time to reinvent the wheel.
In the upcoming 2009 legislative session, we must update our definition of "basic education," figure out what it will cost (it will be an enormous number), and come up with a completely new funding system to make it happen.
Legislators have formed a special task force to accomplish those goals.
To be clear, education is inarguably our state's No. 1 funding priority. More than 40 percent of our state budget goes to K-12 education. That's more than any other state program. In the past two years alone, legislators invested $1 billion additional dollars in K-12 education.
But business as usual is simply not working when it comes to education funding. Our paramount duty as a state is to educate our kids. It's time we fulfill that duty and put our money where our mouth is, literally.
Look at the task force's work online (www.leg.wa.gov/joint/committees/bef). Let your legislator know what you think. We can't afford to shortchange our children any longer.
Rep. Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon, is chairman of the House Education Committee. He can be reached at 360-428-1023 or firstname.lastname@example.org