Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Work of the School Funding Taskforce

I am a total school policy nerd.

Oh yes. I tape legislative hearings off of TV Washington and watch them in my spare time. It's educational, it gives a good sense of where school reform in Washington might go, and it's a cheaper hobby than most. Recently it's been the work of the Joint Committee on Basic Education Finance, also called the Grimm Committee (after it's chair) by some who don't think it'll accomplish much.

So I'm sitting here working on my term paper on the effects of full day Kindergarten, the satellite won't work because it's covered in ice, and I think to myself, "Self, let's work on the paper AND blog about the tape of the committee hearing! Multi-tasking, baby!" So that's what I'm doing--let's see what nuggets we can find!

(Sidebar 1: If you're interested, I'm talkign about the November 19th committee meeting here. You can access it off of TV Washington.)

(Sidebar 2: I've got a bit of self-interest in this as well. This week I'll be attending a dinner with Dan Grimm, the chair of the committee, so I'd like to be able to make some informed comments when I meet with the man.)

To start this day of the hearings John Ahearne, a lawyer with the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS), prepares to give a presentation on his side of the school funding debate. Last meeting they heard someone who has fought for the state side in some of the lawsuits, so this is the fair and balanced piece.

Chairman Grimm really isn't interested. He lets Laura Bay of the Washington State PTA say her piece, but after she's done she reminds the other speakers there representing NEWS that he really wanted to hear about the legal side of school funding, not take the sort of testimony that had already been had during Washington Learns. The representatives from the League of Women Voters and the Urban League for Metropolitan Seattle burn through their time, and then it's turned back over to Mr. Ahearne to give his presentation.

It's a good talk, too, and I would encourage anyone with an interest in school finance in Washington to download his powerpoint from the committee website and follow along on TVW while he gives his presentation. He identifies some key principals that should be understood about funding:

  1. No other state constitution has a stronger education mandate than our state constitution. This is the much-discussed "paramount duty" clause (Article 9, Section 1 of the Washington State Constitution) that every group from the WEA to the WASA has used to urge increased school spending.

  2. Article 9 Section 1 is mandatory and imposes a judicially enforceable affirmative duty. This is why we've had events like the Doran Decisions on school funding, the Federal Way lawsuit, etc.

  3. "Paramount" means "paramount." In his presentation Mr. Ahearne gives a dictionary definition of paramount as being "superior to all others." If we believe that the paramount duty of the state is education, then it follows that education should get all the funding it needs before any other need of the state. I'm not sure I agree with this, but it is what it is.

  4. "Ample" means "ample." Here the argument is that ample means more than adequate, not just enough to get by. Former Spokane area journalist Tom Boyer has also made that point in a statement for the WEA, discussing how his new home in Pennsylvania has a "culture of abundance" compared to Washington.

  5. "All" means "all." I don't know that there's necessarily a fight over this point, but I would suggest that WAETAG might want to try arguing that the gifted kids aren't getting an ample education experience the way things are now, and thus we aren't serving "all" the way we could.

  6. "Education" means substantive content beyond mere reading, writing, and arithmetic. Here Mr. Ahearne made the point that the judicial interpretation of the paramount duty clause has been that education goes well beyond mere basics, covering civics, critical thinking, and the ability to find success in the labor market as well.

Mr. Ahearne's 7th principle actually had four points attached to it, so I'll break it off into another post for another day. There's also a piece coming up about just how many education studies and task forces we've endured in Washington in the past 30 years, which is a point that Representative Skip Priest has been pushing for a while now.

Stay tuned!

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7:07 AM  

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