Today, I filed a lawsuit against seven school districts, demanding that they stop using special levies to pay supplemental contracts for teachers.
This is not a step I want to take. But four years after McCleary v. Washington, the Legislature has failed to provide adequate education funding and it has failed to create an equitable funding system.
The result? Many districts use local levies to pay teacher salaries.
I get that. Districts are merely playing the hand they have been dealt by the Legislature. They are doing the best they can to fulfill their obligation to all students.
Unfortunately, using local levies to pay for basic education costs – which includes some teacher salaries – is unconstitutional.
It’s also unequal. Teacher pay varies widely from one district to the next, often even neighboring districts. Wealthy districts have their pick of the best teachers by offering them better pay for the same work.
Teachers are the most important element in student learning. Wealthy districts are able to attract and retain better qualified teachers by offering higher pay. Paying some of them more than others creates inequitable educational opportunities for students.
This isn’t my opinion alone. In a blog item on education funding, Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond), the Ways & Means Committee Chairman, wrote that “the obligation of financing and providing revenues for our children’s education needs to be equitably borne across the state, not subject to the whims of one’s ZIP code.”
From district superintendents to newspaper editorial boards, the same message emerges: The current system is unfair and illegal, and it leads to advantages and disadvantages.
It must stop.
Some may be critical of my lawsuit, especially those from wealthy districts who benefit from the status quo. As your state superintendent, I have not taken this step lightly. Instead of blaming the messenger, critics should demand legislators and the Governor fulfill the constitutional obligations they have shirked for too many years.
The Supreme Court’s $100,000-per-day fine has been ignored and even disdained. That attitude is not surprising. It wasn’t the Supreme Court that persuaded legislators to pass the Basic Education Act in 1977. It was double levy failures in Seattle.
And it wasn’t the Supreme Court that convinced legislators to vote for a major tax increase in 1982, despite campaign promises to the contrary. Proposed school funding cuts created a public outcry that led to the tax increase.
McCleary was a judgment against the state, not against districts. The case dealt with insufficient state funding. My lawsuit deals with the unconstitutional result of the funding problem: the use of local funding for basic education. Both are essential problems that my lawsuit solves.
I urge everyone who cares about the future of our children to join in the fight for full and equitable state funding of basic education that can be sustained for generations to come.
The time has come to act, and act decisively.