Make no mistake: The McCleary decision is about funding – period.
In discussing its McCleary decision, the Supreme Court said, “the Legislature recently enacted a promising reform package … which if fully funded, will remedy deficiencies in the K-12 funding system.” Senate Democrats agree with this assessment. After years of enacting promising reforms to improve student learning, we are leading the way on the next big reform – implementing and funding those plans.
In its effort to provide the Legislature options for meeting its McCleary obligation, the Joint Task Force on Education Funding recently recommended making a $1.4 billion down payment this biennium. Senate Democrats agree with this recommendation. Putting down a half or a third of what the task force recommended is putting education on layaway – exactly what we need to move beyond.
Senate Democrats are prioritizing education, and we recognize that we cannot neglect the things that are critical to kids’ ability to learn and legitimately say that we have put education first. While the state budget looks at kids’ needs in different silos – education, health care, hunger – that’s not how kids experience their needs in the real world. We will not fulfill our obligation to our kids by pulling resources away from services that help kids outside the classroom.
We cannot prepare only a subset of kids for the workforce and cut loose the others. We cannot continue to put money into wealthy school districts and expect better results from a system that includes thousands of kids in poverty.
Some have suggested that the McCleary decision means the Legislature must fund education first. But that is more a bumper sticker than it is a serious answer to the Supreme Court. We do not need to fulfill an obligation to a slogan – we need to fulfill our obligation to our students.
Those who advocate that we can simply redirect funds from the existing budget to fulfill our obligations to our students must accept the burden of explaining the effect that this would have on our state corrections system, on our public safety and mental health systems, on our social safety net, on our public colleges and universities, on public health. The fact is, robbing Peter to pay Paul has never been a viable or sustainable budget strategy.
We need holistic solutions: solutions that focus on the whole kid, on all kids, and on providing a path for kids to meet the opportunities of their future.
That is exactly what Senate Democrats are proposing.