Callaghan: Putting the fun back in the school funding discussion

By Peter Callaghan, Columbian Syndicated Columnist

Published:

 
photoPeter Callaghan covers the state Legislature for The News Tribune in Tacoma. Blog: thenewstribune.com/politics; or Twitter: @CallaghanPeter. Reach him at peter.callaghan@thenewstribune.com.

In an announcement that was shocking though not unexpected, Washington’s school superintendent and the head of the teachers union said they would move the public school system to another state unless it received more money from taxpayers.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Worndown and Washington Education Association President Kim Medium said at a press conference that they have for years been warning lawmakers and the public about school funding gaps. But despite a state Supreme Court order to fix the problem, lawmakers have not done enough.

Describing the demand as a “modest proposal,” Worndown said that unless the Legislature meets the funding requirements of the McCleary decision before the start of next school year, he would load all 295 school districts onto buses and relocate them to Mississippi.

“Many states would love to have a public school system like ours,” Worndown said. “It makes a state big league.” Worndown said he would leave the nine educational service districts, however, because nobody is really sure what they do.

Medium said her members had demands beyond increased funding.

“With all this testing and enhanced evaluations and accountability, they are getting the sense that you all don’t trust them anymore,” Medium said. All reforms adopted since 1993, therefore, must be repealed or else all 53,600 teachers in the state will head south. Oh, and charter schools would have to go, too, Medium said.

Worndown separated himself from the other WEA demands, saying the state might need charter schools if all the traditional public schools move. Given that there are 1 million schoolkids and only eight charter schools, however, Worndown said he expected there to be “one heck of a waiting list.”

Medium said she came up with the brinkmanship strategy while she and many of her members were skipping school to attend the Super Bowl victory parade.

“Threats to leave the state worked for the Seahawks, the Mariners and Boeing,” Medium said. “Why not the public sector?”

Mixed reactions

Reaction was swift.

“This wouldn’t have happened if Rodney Tomthumb hadn’t helped the Republicans form the Majority Coalition Caucus,” said House Speaker Crank Fopp. “Everyone knows we’d have done whatever the WEA wanted, especially in an election year. But all the Senate majority could talk about was accountability this, reform that. They are so boring.”

In turn, legislative Republicans blamed Obamacare.

Gov. Jay Ingraham said he would call an immediate special session and submit a package of bills in response to the crisis. In addition to increased funding for schools and bills to reform the reforms, Ingraham said he will ask for action on low carbon fuel standards. “Yeah, I know. This has nothing to do with climate change,” Ingraham said. “But I’m really into climate change. I mean, really in to it.”

The business community had mixed reactions. While it favors more state support for education, it is still kind of hoping someone else will have to pay for it.

Expressing concerns were the state’s education reform groups. More money is important, they said. But they lamented the threat to performance-based reforms that enhance accountability and have begun to show positive results.

“We will try to make the point to Ingraham and the lawmakers that they should put the kids first and not the adults,” said League of Education Voters president Vast Cosmos. “We’ll lose, of course.”

Stand for Children announced a plan to urge schoolkids to contribute a percentage of their lunch money to a new political action committee to counteract teachers’ union contributions.

“Money talks. Bull walks,” said PAC director Karen Duncan, age 8. “Actually, Bull’s mom doesn’t allow it to walk, but it does have to sit up in the front of the bus by the driver.”

Mississippi was not available for comment.