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What Do Schools Need from McCleary Decision?

Uncertain how education will be funded in Washington state, school administrators say they typically plan for the worst-case scenario. (wsilver/Flickr)
Uncertain how education will be funded in Washington state, school administrators say they typically plan for the worst-case scenario. (wsilver/Flickr)
May 4, 2017

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The clock is ticking again this year for the Washington State Legislature to figure out how to address the Supreme Court's McCleary decision that requires the state to properly fund schools.

As legislators hammer out details behind closed doors in a special session, what do teachers and school administrators hope to get from this decision?

Elizabeth Loftus is a special education teacher on Whidbey Island, and also the Washington state Regional Teacher of the Year for 2017. She describes how she imagines a student-centered funding model.

"If they need some sort of mental health resource, it's available to them,” she explains. “If they need a way to connect to medical attention, it's available to them.

“If their family needs parent training, it's available to them. If they need small group instruction, it's available to them, because we have enough teachers and paraprofessionals to provide it."

Loftus also hopes improvements can be made to school infrastructures, and the state can provide more professional development for educators to help retain more teachers.

Washington ranks 46th among states for education spending as a percentage of gross state product, according to the Education Law Center at Rutgers University.

Loftus says teachers have a hard time finding the support they need, especially for students from low-income families. She says teachers sometimes pay out-of-pocket to help students, and without sufficient funding, these students end up paying the biggest price.

"We overlook that and then, we still expect them to meet certain standards and do certain things when we're not meeting their basic needs,” she stresses. “And then, we're saying, 'Sorry, schools. Sorry, teachers. We're also going to not fully fund you, and you're also asked to do this additional thing.' That's really difficult."

Chris Loftis – no relation to Elizabeth Loftus – heads communications for the Kent School District. He says schools end up planning for the worst as the big question mark looms over the budget – and thinks it's time for the state to make students the focus.

"Not a particular group of employees, not at a particular philosophical perspective, not a particular political party or platform,” he states. “We really need to look at the science, to look at the evidence and then, do what's best for our kids. And then, recognize one incontrovertible truth: that costs money."


Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA