- Though no decision has been reached, the Washington State Supreme Court confronted both sides of the McCleary, et al. v. State of Washington school funding case last week, trying to determine whether the state’s recent school funding increase was enough to fully fund basic education, the News Tribune reports.
- Though the state is currently considered in contempt of court and is being fined $100,000 a day for the state legislature’s perceived lack of progress in addressing unmet conditions of the 2012 McCleary ruling in time for the September 2018 deadline, state lawmakers argue that its newly budgeted $7.3 billion in school spending over the next four years is enough to meet the demands for now and promises more money in 2019. Opponents disagree.
- Justices also asked hard questions about the state’s failure to pass a more than $1 billion construction budget designed to lower class sizes across the state, an issue that is still being negotiated by state lawmakers.
Though the state of Washington is the latest and most dramatic court battle waging over the issue of school funding, the war is not new. As of 2014, all but five states in the nation had faced similar court battles over either inadequate or inequitable school funding. And until the basic question of what it means to “fully fund” education is answered, the court cases will likely continue.
The question of school funding is a complicated one. In Washington, some school districts claim that, despite the supposed state school funding increase, they are actually receiving less than before because of new educational requirements and new limits on other sources of income. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for federal, state and local governments to play shell games with school funding, doling out money with one hand, while taking back money with the other.
Education funding is one of the major expenditures in any state. According to a 2013 U.S. Census figure, education funding accounts for an average of 29.9% of all state funding each year. In Washington, that figure was 26.7%, considerably lower than the national average. Therefore, school funding is of major concern to both schools and state legislatures. While schools need to be prudent about spending tax dollars in the most effective way, state lawmakers also need to be more willing to open the purse strings without having them pried open. Lawsuits may sometimes be the only way to force the issue, but they waste money that could be better used to support schools in the first place.