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What is McCleary, and How Did We Get Here?

This is part one in a three-part series on education funding in Washington. Part two can be found here and part three is here:

 

Education funding is going to be one of the biggest issues that the legislature is going to face in the upcoming session. That is because of something called the McCleary decision. For anyone who does not know about this looming issue I will attempt to explain, in three parts, what is going on. Part one will focus on what McCleary is and how we got here, part two will be about the current solutions that are being offered in Olympia, and part three will focus on education funding more generally.

So what is McCleary? McCleary v. Washington is a Washington State Supreme Court ruling that says that the State is not fully funding basic education, and not fully funding basic education is unconstitutional. In order to understand why the court ruled that way we need to go back to 1978, and another lawsuit, Seattle School Districts V. State. In that case the Supreme Court decided that the State was not fully funding basic education, but left the decision to define what basic education is up to the legislature. And the legislature did define basic education in the “Basic Education Act of 1977" (Notice the difference between when the law was passed and when the Supreme Court heard the case? That was back when the legislature actually solved our problems proactively instead of kicking the can down the road for someone else to clean up.) The Basic Education Act solved the problems from the 1978 case, and the law went largely unchanged until 2009…

In 2009, the Democrat controlled House and Senate decided to pass an update to the Basic Education Act. The problem was that it created a huge new expense that the State had to fund, and it provided no way to fund it. All it did was create an obligation and kick the problem down the line to another group of legislators. And remember, this was in 2009, during one of the worst economic downturns that this State has ever seen. It also paved the way for the McCleary lawsuit. Because of the ruling in McCleary, the State is in an incredibly vulnerable position where it needs to find at least $3.5 billion in new funding, and put that money exclusively into schools. This crisis was created by the very people who are now seeking your vote, and their ideas all involve large tax increases. In fact, one of the sponsors of the 2009 bill (Maralyn Chase, who represents the 32nd district) has moved up into the senate, and is advocating for an income tax that will place a huge burden on middle class property owners (which I rejected in a previous post). Other options include a capital gains tax, which will hurt those who had the foresight and ability to invest in their own futures by taxing income from investments, and the last option is best described by Rep. Cindy Ryu when she said, “any other revenue increases that I can think of”, meaning substantial tax increases.

Essentially, the people who are seeking your votes now are those who created the problem, and are saying, “Trust me, I can fix this. Just give me more of your time and more of your money.” It’s time to say no to that. If you hired a contractor to fix something in your house, and the contractor ruined an entire wall, that contractor would be fired. It’s time we fired our legislators in Olympia who we contracted to fix our problems, and instead ruined our budget. We need to rewrite the 2009 version of the Basic Education Act to something that we can afford, and then decide how to best fund an education system that ensures successful student outcomes, and does not result in us throwing money into a system that is not working, and does not maximize student results.

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