A special task force will spend the next 16 months trying to come up with a more stable and productive system for fully funding basic education and the state faces trial on charges it isnt doing the job now.
This isnt the first task force to work on it and the site has been taken to court before and told it MUST do it, the fly in the ointment being getting agreement on exactly what constitutes the basic education the state Constitution says is its paramount duty to fund.
Rep. Charles Moon of Snohomish got the signatures in 1975 for Initiative 314, which would have imposed a 12 percent income tax on corporations with the revenue earmarked for schools. Gov. Dan Evans called I-314 unfair and unconstitutional because it not only put the burden on business alone, but only on incorporated businesses.
The 1975 Legislature met in a two-day special session to come up with alternatives to I- 314 but threw in the towel. I actually thought it would pass in November because it gave people the opportunity to stick business with the bill, but their hatred of any income tax won out. It went down, 323,831 for and 652,178 against.
They were still arguing in 1976 over defining basic ed when James Aucutt, then president of the Washington Education Assn., told a gathering he could do it. First, I would define basic education as a service provided by the state, he said. The perimeters of that service can be defined in terms of people. In other words, the state Legislature would say local school districts shall provide for basic education, for the sake of argument, one classroom teacher for every 22 students. Again, using that kind of approach, there would be formulas for support staff and administration, like one for every so many kids or certificated employees. Let school districts select their own curriculum.
Thats what they eventually wound up with, formulas that could be tuned up each session to fit what was presumed to be the need.
My contention has been that the school districts cheat, maybe with good reason, but they cheat. When handed an unfunded mandate to do something, they borrow the money out of the basic education funds they get from the state and then go to the voters pleading for special levies to replace it while saying the state isnt fully funding basic education.
If I ran a school district, Id simply refuse to obey unfunded mandates. Let em sue me.
It also disappoints me that so many parents fall for the baloney that whats needed to fix the problem of failing schools is more money. It isnt reform of the funding that needs attention, its reform of the system. Gov. Gregoires task force should be looking at ways to achieve success in the education of the students, not finding more money to jack up the pay of employees.
The task force should locate and study schools that rank high in the various federal standings and see what theyre doing that were not. That goes for allowing vouchers and expansion of charter schools which Democrats go on school boards to prevent, since the WEA is one of their prime contributors.
Same goes for that coalition of teachers, parents and community activists that took the state to court for not funding basic ed. The court refused to issue a summary judgment but said there will be a trial.
Lack of money isnt the problem. Its the gearing of education to the acceptance of mediocrity as the norm and the expectation of old fashion values and results by a society that doesnt necessarily practice at home what it expects from the schools.
Adele Ferguson can be reached at P.O. Box 69, Hansville, WA, 98340.
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