Repetition without solicitude rarely yields results.
Just ask the mischievous student who scrawls line after line on the blackboard with little contrition, save his regret for being caught and punished.
Likewise, for politicians who for years have cited the need for better education in Washington state, there comes a time when action should follow. Enter Gov. Chris Gregoire, who has proposed spending $1.3 billion over the next two years on early learning and K-12 education. “The best way to grow our economy and secure a bright future for our children is to make significant investments in a renewed education system now,” Gregoire said Tuesday in her State of the State Address.
For her ambition, the governor should be applauded. But forgive the skepticism of school officials across the state – including those here on Bainbridge – who have heard that line too many times before.
Which is why on Thursday, despite the signs of hope issuing from Olympia, a coalition of teachers, school districts and parents filed a lawsuit against the state claiming that public schools aren’t being adequately funded as required by the state Constitution.
The coalition was formed in 2005 by Bainbridge and Bellevue school districts to pressure Washington Learns – an 18-month review of the state’s educational system – into outlining concrete funding strategies alongside any reforms it might recommend. It didn’t, so the coalition filed suit.
The decades-old problem stems from an outdated school funding structure that places too great a burden on local communities to make up for gaps in state school support. Compared to school funding across the nation, Washington sits near the back of the class in nearly every category. The situation is particularly bad here on Bainbridge, where each year the constraints of the local levy lid leave the district with $536 less per student than the state average.
The results are bigger classes, despicably low teacher salaries and the need for exhaustive efforts to pass local levies – like the three-year, $23.1 million levy set to go before Bainbridge voters next month – just to cover basic costs . That, coupled with rising test standards that many students are ill-prepared to meet, spells serious problems for education in Washington state.
The governor’s proposal is a good step, but it’s not enough. Without sufficient political will to back a rotunda full of rhetoric, schools will still suffer.
The state could start by addressing the biggest roadblock to adequate funding, its vague and narrow definition of what constitutes an “ample” education (the term is used in state Constitution). Doing so is one reliable way to ensure funding that will endure, regardless of who’s in office and which way the Legislature swings. Any new definition also should include art and music, which tend to get pushed aside by subjects like math and science. In the meantime, a lawsuit that will hold ruler over wrist during the current legislative session can’t hurt. Unlike repetition, pressure at least unleashes the endorphins that can lead to meaningful action.
If after considering the threat of actual movement among those in Olympia the lawsuit seems a bit premature, consider the words of former Gov. Dan Evans, who 30 years ago sounded a lot like his latest predecessor in Olympia:
“It is important to provide long-term, consistent and dependable financing for basic education,” Evans said, in his 1977 State of the State Address. “Adequate financial support means that administrators can return to administrating, teachers can return to teaching and parents and students can be involved in the learning process, rather than all spending inordinate amounts of time passing special levies.”
Talk about a line that bears repeating.