Washington’s Dorn Suggests Closing State’s Schools Over Funding

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Randy Dorn, the state superintendent of public instruction in Washington, says his state's public schools should be closed. A surprising opinion, perhaps, but Dorn filed a court brief to the Washington Supreme Court on Wednesday arguing that a 2012 ruling on education funding by the high court has not been enforced by the state.

Dorn, who is not seeking re-election, feels the court should close all K-12 schools until lawmakers get serious about funding the state's schools.

The Supreme Court heard what was to be coined the McLeary case in 2007, in which the judges were asked to order the state to follow its "paramount constitutional duty to make ample provision for the education of all Washington children." The Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS) filed the suit on behalf of two Washington families, the Venemas and the McClearys, according to the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools website.

In 2009, the court's decision was made in NEWS's favor. The state appealed and in January 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court upheld the lower court ruling. And in an unprecedented action, the court retained jurisdiction over the case until the state met the court-appointed order for more funding by 2018.

Dorn says that the tactic of closing all schools was used once in New Jersey, so closing all Washington schools should not be ruled out, writes Joseph O'Sullivan for The Seattle Times.

Legislators have added billions of dollars to education funding, but they are just short of finishing the final components needed to comply with the McCleary mandates. In August, the state supreme court began to fine the state $100,000 a day for not making progress on the comprehensive measures needed to fund Washington's K-12 education.

Dorn also asked the court to eliminate some special state tax exemptions or redirect non-school dollars to spend on education. He also suggested that the judges discipline individual lawmakers.

"These options are dramatic, but it is clear by now that the Governor and the Legislature will continue to ignore the Court and continue to avoid doing their constitutional duty until the Court does something dramatic," Dorn said in a news release. "That time has come."

Legislators say they are stuck with the complicated and politically sticky job of reforming how the state will pay teachers. They acknowledge that finding this money will entail changing how local property-tax levies are distributed in districts.

The legislature foresees that the cost of such changes could be as high as $3.5 billion every two years.

Washington State Sen. Randi Becker (R-Eatonville) writes in an article for The South Pierce County Dispatch that the legislature developed an Education Funding Task Force in 2016 to define essential education, to learn how much the districts in the state are spending for basic education, and to ensure that state teachers are being compensated correctly.

Becker continued by stating that education funding is an enormous and controversial topic, and the state of Washington still has a long way to go toward solving the issues at hand.

But Rep. Chris Reykdal (D-Turnwater), Vice Chair of the House Education Committee and one of the four candidates who are vying for Dorn's position, said he did not think kids should have to pay for the timeline that has been mandated, reports KING-TV's John Langeler. Shutting schools, he continued, is inappropriate. Reykdal said he thought Becker was trying to exemplify the sense of urgency surrounding the court's ruling.

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