The politics of education in the state of Washington
September 16, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn joined the Foley Institute to discuss the McCleary Decision on Public Education Funding and Reform. The policy derives its name from the McCleary family, Dorn explained, that come from “a property poor district that was unable to raise revenue for district wages.” This reliance on fundraising for local levies boils down to a civil rights and equity issue that sparked Dorn’s activism.
The Superintendent clarified that the variety in district demographics– particularly concerning economics and race– results in an education gap. Local levy funds are raised with highly contrasting results between income rich and income poor districts. The problem is seen when learning that a shocking fifty percent of these funds go towards teachers’ salaries– an “unconstitutional use of local levy dollars for a state responsibility,” exclaimed Dorn. Insisting that the legislature take responsibility for providing basic, equal education across the state, Dorn admitted that raising taxes would be the answer to simply paying compensation to teachers.
Without some way for reliable and uniform pay, the quality of instructors will vary between districts. The skill of instructors– be it adjustments to ESL, Special Education, and individual students’ needs– “makes a tremendous difference to the kids in the classroom.” Dorn spelled out how this variety in wage results in the problem of “teachers going to richer districts while rookies end up in the poorer districts.” A race issue arises as Dorn made clear that the demographics of income rich districts have been seen to be generally “white and Asian” while the districts that are unable to raise levy dollars are generally families of minorities.
Inequality is also seen in the realm of technology in the school setting. This element of modernity “was considered an extra– not part of basic education.” Therefore, the state removes itself from the responsibility of providing technology to students. What ends up happening, Dorn explained, is that local levy funds will be raised by districts that are able to; resulting in vast variation between the technological tools at the hands of students across districts. This inequality has clear ramifications for the access students have to material, but also impacts the students’ support network. Without assistance in obtaining technological access, parents may be unable to set up connections with teachers.
Dorn’s “battle between upholding the Constitution or cruising by” until his term ends clearly resulted in taking on a role of impassioned activism. The lawsuits against school districts are his efforts in “educating and urging” people to do something; “I’m advocating for every kid to have a shot.” Referring to the recent $16 billion raised by legislature for transportation costs, Dorn exclaimed, “I only want $3 billion for state education revenue! When did roads take the place of kids as the paramount duty of the state?” Although there is a September 2018 deadline to cease the use of levy funds for the aforementioned services, Dorn said, “the state needs to step up and do their share. I’m trying to push them over the cliff” and urge them to “fulfill their oath” of providing equal education to the students of Washington.
Contributor: Shantara Pintak