McCleary - Why is this So Hard to Get Done?

At Seattle Channel's Seattle Speaks event a couple of weeks back, Senator Michael Baumgartner, in passing, mentioned "the McCleary wars."  I was taken aback but I shouldn't have been.

I mean you'd have to be blind not to see that the conservatives in this state don't want to have to find the money.  I think they purposefully have dragged this out so that they can make it as hard as possible for the liberals to get this done.  In other words, make it a bloody fight where everyone gets a little something but, in the end, there will be those who lose.

The question is - who loses?  Business and their tax breaks? (Boeing just disclosed they received $300M in tax breaks.) Social services?  (With homelessness on the rise?)  Will the Legislature finally pass an income tax?  (I am saying that in a serious tone; it needs to be revisited.)  Or, will the legislature "fulfill" McCleary but put strings on that money?

I was moved to bring this up again from a couple of items I came across recently.  Listening to NPR this morning, there was a story on Kansas and their litigation over school funding.

 It was noted that there are 13 states with legal cases over school funding.  But nowhere is it more on the line than in Kansas. One lawyer has been involved in litigation on this issue since 1989.  Hearing this story, I think most in Washington state would get a serious case of deja vu.
There, the state Supreme Court will hear arguments on the latest funding case within the next week. If justices don't approve of the legislators' fix to the system, the court could shut down public schools on June 30.
Via Twitter, I learned there is yet another ed reform group on the radar. It's called PIE Network (Policy Innovators in Education.)

And, of course, who's funding it?  Gates, Broad, New Venture, Walton - you know, the usual suspects.

Who are the "members" from Washington State?  League of Education Voters (check), Stand for Children (check) and Partnership for Learning (check - they're a business ed reform group.)

PIE has a blog and there is a thread about the NPR coverage of education funding in the U.S.  The PIE blog reported that LEV says this about Washington State:
The League of Education Voters’ (LEV) Policy Team writes “the State of Washington has made progress in equitable funding in recent years.” Sparked by the 2012 McCleary Supreme Court decision, Washington has spent $3.2 billion in new investments for basic education over the last two budget cycles. The work is not over, however. The legislature is fined $100,000 per day by the Supreme Court until they fully fund public education. In response to this, the legislature created a task force to determine how to end the state’s over-reliance on local levies to pay teacher salaries and other components of basic education.  
Is $3.2M a big number to throw out there? Of course it is BUT apparently LEV forgot that there was a big recession just a few years back.  From what I know, most of the districts in this state - if not all - had to make deep cuts.  So some of that "new investment" is really backfilling from the cuts.

And LEV says this at their own blog:
Washington still has substantial progress to make in fully funding basic education, but it has made significant strides in recent years that are not reflected in the per-student funding ranking of states in the NPR article. It is important to both acknowledge the progress Washington has made in funding education and continue to strongly advocate for equitable and ample education funding.
You could read that paragraph as careful kindness to legislators, an encouragement perhaps.  They seem unhappy that the "significant strides" didn't make it into the NPR story.

But I don't read any urgency in that paragraph.  That's hard to understand.


Anonymous said…
It's hard to get done because it's incredibly complicated. There are really tough issues here, like state/local funding, state/local control, unequal salary schedules, tax system structures, etc. It's not remotely easy or simple.

Anonymous said…
It's hard to get done, because 'they' like it the way it is, and the way it is going.

Only Stalling said…
SDD, that is why they have conducted no less than 5 studies in the past 10 years. The answers are already there, for the most part. They just don't like them. How do you stall? Call for more studies (more taxpayer money not being spent on students).
Scroll down to the list from the Tri-City Herald.
SDD, no one is denying that but it does feel like they are leaving much of the hard work to the end. That serves no one in public education.
Watching said…
There are a lot of astro-turf groups and it is difficult to keep-up.

I listened to the panel discussion regarding funding. Baumgartner was asked the question: "What do you expect to happen next year?" Baumgartner: "Nothing'
Teacher Greg said…
If you fund it, things will potentially be too functional to claim it's broken and drum up support for privatization.

On top of that, republicans and the anti public school crowd usually argue "throwing money at the problem isn't the answer", except of course when it comes to their own kids.

Additionally asking the wealthiest (who already have good schools) to help pay for comparable services (or god forbid more services to address the higher level of need) in poor areas is politically unpopular... They now call that "wanting free stuff".
Anonymous said…
Notice how many of the legislators are "retiring" now that they've "kicked the can" of education funding down the line. They don't want to deal with it. Plus it's an inconvenient truth to the GOP & DINOs that money DOES make a difference in public education. They'd prefer to say it doesn't so they can privatize away and claim charters do more with less - also conveniently ignoring the fact that charters spend more on administration than students, have fewer services to pay for (like transportation, SPED, ELL, FRL), and don't have a population representative of their neighboring public schools.
The hard truth is, either they need to close the tax break loopholes or institute some form of an income tax, but most of them don't want to go there. It's not a popular choice, but it's the right choice if there is to be any chance of proper & equitable funding of public schools.
This is the only state I've lived in that DIDN'T have an income tax. While I love not having that extra form (some of the state forms were pretty onerous), I also want to make sure schools are funded properly, so I will gladly complete an extra form & pay a state income tax if it will help public schools. Granted, my income is not much compared to the bulk of the population in Seattle, but I am perfectly willing to pay what I would owe. I am a product of public schools, I want today's students to have the same opportunities that I did in public school.

Charlie Mas said…
The one and only solution is staring them right in the face: raise taxes. But that solution will cause legislators from conservative districts to lose their bids for re-election as they are successfully challenged from the right. It might even cause some legislators from mixed districts or liberal districts to lose their bids for re-election. So it is not in the legislators' self-interest to solve this problem the one and only way it can be solved.

So it's not hard or complicated, it just requires a personal sacrifice by the legislators.

As for a simple way to determine the income tax, they can just go with a flat rate based on a number on taxpayers' federal returns - AGI or taxable income. The whole return can be on a post card.
Anonymous said…
Charlie, I don't think your argument, that the people who disagree with you should just do what you want and then lose their elections, is likely to convince many :)

But again, the answer isn't just "raise taxes." On whom? How much? By what method?

And keep in mind that any statewide funding that flows to local districts is going to involve a large transfer of money over the mountains. That's something that many folks in the Seattle area aren't really grappling with yet (but their legislators are). Let's say that side picks up another $2B in taxes -- well only X% of that is actually going to flow into the schools in that area. The rest is going out to the red parts of the state that are already so disdained, because those places don't have high personal incomes, property values or Fortune 500 companies.

Then once you've figured out the money, who gets to decide how it's spent? Is there now a statewide teacher salary scale? If so, how do you resolve the huge imbalances between, say, Everett and ... everyone else? Do you just grandfather in -- and therefore carve into stone -- those historical differences? How is that fair?

I can't speak for others, but I can tell you in my experience, when you talk to legislators about the McCleary issues, they are very up to speed on what the challenges are and are actually trying to find solutions. They are not the cartoonish villains that posts like this make them out to be.

Eric B said…
SDD, I have absolutely no problem sending money east of the mountains. I absolutely have a problem with people east of the mountains claiming they don't get their fair share and that they are subsidizing Seattle. Or that we Seattleites have a boot on their neck.
The rest is going out to the red parts of the state that are already so disdained,..."

What? I personally don't like the politics in Eastern Washington but those are also Washingtonians. While the Puget Sound region may drive the state's economy, the farming in Eastern Washington is vital to the state.

Do we sometimes hear what Eric says "not getting their fair share," yes we do. Of course, that can be easily disproved.

It would really help if legislators would think about the entire state and not just their region and pass that onto their constituents.
Anonymous said…
Let me put it this way and then I'll stop. You could impose an income tax tomorrow and send all that new money to schools and that would still leave unaddressed the 99 other issues that make this so hard to get done. And it's how those 99 other issues get addressed that will determine the future of public education in Washington. So we should hope they get it right, or at least not terribly wrong.


Patrick said…
It is a big and complicated problem, but that's the job the legislature was elected to do. If they didn't want to take on big, complicated problems, they shouldn't have run for office.

A state income tax has gone down in flames every time it has been proposed. We'd have to sweeten it to get it passed. My favorite would be a progressive income tax including a state tax on capital gains, and eliminating the sales tax. The way that Washington's wealthy escape state level taxation on their capital gains and inheritance, while instead taxing the working poor for their necessities, makes me outraged.

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