It has been a busy week for school funding.
On Tuesday outgoing Governor Chris Gregoire unveiled, as she is legally required, her proposed budget for the first two years of her successor’s administration. The proposal would provide over $1 billion in new revenue and tax extensions to answer the Washington Supreme Court’s finding, in the McCleary decision, that the state is failing to adequately fund schools.
The nation’s gun lobby proposes armed police in every school. This is from an organization that amplifies everyday Republican messaging that has opposed, for example, federal funding for more teachers like those who sought to protect.Yet the proposal would still deny, for another two years, K–12 staff and teachers the cost-of-living pay increases guaranteed under Initiative 732, and only lower class sizes for kids in poverty in the second grade or below. It’s hard to imagine the future at such a slow pace.
Indeed, on Thursday the Supreme Court issued an order upbraiding the state for continuing failure to show educational funding progress. Noted the court, “Slowing the pace of funding cuts is necessary, but it does not equate to constitutional compliance; constitutional compliance will never be achieved by making modest funding restorations to spending cuts.”
The court made clear it was not fooled by “committees that have been formed and the additional studies that have been undertaken”—it expects action and not more rhetoric. It wants a solid game plan to be produced in the coming legislative session. The court did not take any judicial notice of the charter school initiative, Initiative 1240, so we can conclude 40 charter schools will not fix everything after all (contrary to the representations of antitax, pro-I-1240 plutocrats).
Today the National Rifle Association unveiled its own school funding plan in response to the Connecticut elementary school shooting. The nation’s gun lobby proposes armed police in every school. This is from an organization that amplifies everyday Republican messaging that has opposed, for example, federal funding for more teachers like those who sought to protect—at the cost of their own lives—their small Connecticut wards.
Let’s dissect the NRA’s proposal: Rural school districts are funded in no small part by levy equalization that shifts dollars out of places like Seattle to places like Omak. And local law enforcement agencies are strapped as a consequence of weak revenues and fiscal austerity rolling downhill from the federal to state to local governments.
Can the state’s constitutional “paramount duty...to make ample provision for the education of all children” be satisfied simply by surrounding them with more guns?Schools vary widely in size, from the smallest rural elementary schools to the largest urban high schools; if we decide armed sentries are the only answer to preventing school shootings by those, like Adam Lanza, schooled on NRA-affiliated shooting ranges, it seems logical the number of sentries should vary based on school size.
Let's be conservative, though. Assuming no less than one armed police officer is stationed in each school, the cost for my son’s Olympia School District alone would be no less than 18 schools multiplied by $5,390.41 a month (the minimum salary for an Olympia police officer). Over the school year that would be roughly $900,000—it’s unclear what the NRA expects the officers to do outside the school year.
Relatively flush, the Olympia School District faced a $2 million shortfall in preparing its 2012–13 school year budget. Thus, it is very hard to reconcile the NRA’s proposal with McCleary—not to mention the complicating threat of federal education cuts under budget sequestration (the “fiscal cliff”). The federal cuts would be $18.2 million just from special education grants to our state. (Oh, and as the New York Times editorial page pointed out today, the proposal also abandons the NRA's strict stance on the Constitution. They write: "It is interesting that such a literal reader of the Second Amendment would have missed the fact that Congress has no power over local police forces and schools. Talk about Big Brother government.")
Given the tradeoffs involved, and treating the NRA’s proposal as sincere—given its complete control of Congress, it may be advisable for the legislature to submit the question to the Supreme Court in an open pleading: Can the state’s constitutional “paramount duty...to make ample provision for the education of all children” be satisfied simply by surrounding them with more guns?
Former state Rep. Brendan Williams is a regular PubliCola contributor.