Washington State Superintendent Randy Dorn isn’t happy with the extent to which state legislators funded public education in the state budget. And, he’s letting everyone know about it. Dorn’s anger is despite the fact that the state government will spend 33 percent more on the average student over the next fiscal year than it did before the court’s McCleary decision ruling.
It is also despite the fact that the new state budget spends $2.9 billion more on public schools, increasing spending from the current $15.26 billion to $18.15 billion. That’s a 19% increase.
And, it is also despite the fact that Republicans also won big on higher education. The new state budget includes the Senate Republicans’ College Affordability Program (CAP), which partially lifts the heavy tuition burden that Democrats have placed on middle class families for decades. In what amount to a quarter-billion dollar tax cut for middle income families, CAP will cut tuition at the University of Washington and Washington State University by 15 percent over two years. Other state universities will see a 20% tuition cut over the same time frame. And, community college tuition will decrease by five percent starting July 2016.
Dorn’s anger manifested itself with a report he filed with the state Supreme Court last week claiming that lawmakers failed to fully fund public schools. Dorns argues in his report that the justices should “continue to hold the Legislature in contempt, and says it’s time to resort to tough sanctions to get lawmakers to do their job.”
Dorn would like the Supreme Court to order lawmakers into another special session, “arguing the budget deal fails to abide by the court’s 2012 McCleary decision.” That plan would force a government shutdown.
So, given how much state budget truly prioritizes pubic education funding, just how much would have been enough to make Dorn happy? Probably just what he called lawmakers to do in April 2015. Via Crosscut,
“[Dorn] wants the state’s 2015-2017 budget to allocate $2.2 billion for reducing teacher-student ratios in Grades K-3, as required by the Supreme Court as well as last year’s Initiative 1351. The Democratic-controlled House currently proposes spending $1.4 billion, while the GOP-controlled Senate offers $1.3 billion…
Also, Dorn proposes keeping Initiative 1351 somewhat intact in higher grades. I-“1351 calls for teacher-student ratios in Grades 4-12 to be in a range of one teacher to 22 to 25 students, depending on the type of class. Dorn wants to aim for one teacher for 24 students in Grades 4-6 and one teacher for 27 students in Grades 7-12…
“Dorn also proposes collective bargaining between the state government and teachers, either on a statewide basis or by regions…”
Prior to the start of the 2015 legislative cycle, Dorn submitted a $7.2 billion increase in the education budget to Jay Inslee’s office. It’s that figure that would, apparently, satisfy him.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson has challenged Dorn, pointing out in a brief that state funding for schools since the 2012 McCleary has “increased by nearly $5 billion—from $13.4 billion to $18.2 billion, amounting to an increase of nearly $2,500 per student.” And, legislators have just “delivered the highest percentage of the state budget to public schools in thirty years.”
The Attorney General offers sharp criticism for Dorn’s plan to shut down government. He points out Dorn’s plan would cause children to go hungry. Via the Washington Policy Center,
“Making ample provision for education is the State’s ‘paramount duty.’ (Citation omitted.) The State has many other important duties as well, from providing mental health treatment to feeding hunger children. Indeed, many of these duties are important in part because of their impact on education: children who are hungry, homeless or being abused are extremely unlikely to succeed in school. (Citations omitted.)
“The State has a responsibility to fund and oversee all of these obligations. The Superintendent of Public Instruction does not. His role, and his amicus brief, properly focus solely on K-12 education. But that narrow focus leads the Superintendent astray here. (Emphasis added.) The Court should decline to adopt his counterproductive proposed remedy, recognizing that his allegation that the State’s progress is inadequate is by comparison to his own view of what the Legislature should do, not by comparison to any objective constitutional standard.”
Considering just how much the lawmakers managed to prioritize pubic education—indeed, to fully fund, it—in the state budget, Dorn’s plan is not only irresponsible, it threatens to damage the futures of the children he claims to defend. It is an uncalled for, extreme reaction.
Dorn’s reckless, unhinged behavior may be a last ditch effort to leave some type of legacy as superintended. HE faces re-election next year and, rumor has it, he won’t run again. Already, a line of hopefuls has formed in hopes of replacing him. Democrat state Rep. Chris Reykdal has announced his intention to run, as has Tacoma Public Schools official Erin Jones. Former Democrat state Rep. Larry Seaquist is also considering a run.