She's asking about how to properly fund our schools and gives an interesting history about how it happened in New Jersey (which funds their schools very well) and finally got that state to an income tax.
It was something I noticed in a Slate story from earlier this summer about our situation here in Washington, and it bears repeating: "When, in 1976, New Jersey was in a similar situation [to Washington], the Supreme Court shut down the schools for eight days. The fruits of that conflict remain with New Jerseyites to this day, for the need to fund schools more fairly is what led New Jersey in 1976 to adopt a state income tax for the first time."
It made me wonder the following things.
1. Does the Washington State Supreme Court have the authority to shut down schools across the state right now?
2. Is that story about New Jersey really true? Did New Jersey pass the state's first-ever (and enduring) income tax because it had no other way to get its schools up and running after its Supreme Court put its foot down?
3. Has the income tax solved the problem of chronic school underfunding in New Jersey?
4. If the answer to all those questions is yes, then why isn't the Washington State Supreme Court shutting down our schools to force the hand of the Governor and Legislature right now?
I made a few calls, and guess what? The answer to those first three questions is pretty much yes.
She asked lawyer Thomas A. Ahearne, counsel on McCleary, about this issue:
I put the questions to Ahearne. What will the McCleary plaintiffs do next? And does the pressure point of the Seattle strike help motivate them at all?
"We don't have any plans right this second," Ahearne told me, explaining that you have to be summoned to the Supreme Court—you don't just show up and order them around.Here's what Ahearne predicts will happen.
"I think the Supremes are going to give the Governor and the Legislature a couple months to do what they’re going to do," he said. "My guess is they’re not going to do anything, and the Supremes will ask both sides [the plaintiffs in McCleary and the State] to submit something to the court saying, 'So, how’s it going?' and our response will be that it’s going nowhere, and the court should impose the heavy sanctions like the ones you saw with the New Jersey Supreme Court."
She really gets down to business here:
One thing working in schools' favor in Washington is the unusual strength of the Washington Constitution in spelling out that education is "the paramount duty"—the, not a paramount duty—of the state.
In other words, our state's constitution says that nothing else should be funded if schools are not.
"A lot of states have education clauses in their constitution; none is as strong as Washington’s," Ahearne said.
So what do we do now? Wait and see? What about the strikers? What about their students?
Ahearne's advice to fellow parents of public-school students:
1. Support the strike.
2. Take that support further, and appreciate and respect and thank teachers more. They deserve it.
3. "Goddamnit, get the legislators to start amply funding the schools."
Parents, get your freakout on. While supporting the strikers, don't support the idea that our kids should be out of school. This is a very good exercise in civic engagement education, and it's terrific that we're talking to our kids about this. But we need to talk, too, and angrily, to those who can make change happen: Elected politicians.
Even if all parents of public-school children voted in Washington, they'd still be a vast minority, Ahearne told me. But the right to an education is, as some have pointed out, a civil rights battle.
The people whose rights you're fighting for in this case? The kids? Not one of them can vote, so this is going to be up to the rest of all of us.