CRT and School Funding

Who controls education in Washington State, Part 3

In order to understand who controls education in Washington State, we must follow the money and the 50 year battle for equitable education spending 

“It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders, without distinction or preference on account of race, color, caste or sex.”

Washington Constitution, article IX, section 1

***The hyperlinks throughout this post provide important context if you are unfamiliar with some of the legal history of education funding in Washington state. Here is a great introduction video

In this blog series, we have used the principles of CRT to shape our critique of how governmental bodies such as the EOGOAC, WA Leg. Education Committee members, and corporate media have limited and distorted the path towards education justice in Washington State. We have asked and answered this question of “Who Controls Education in Washington State?” because our advocacy work has brought us in proximity to and conflict with the various governmental bodies and private interests that have their hand around the neck of the levers of change in our education system. In the first blog post, we targeted the EOGOAC because our work at WAESN has included directly holding them accountable to their duty to our community to close the achievement gap and in the process; centering cultures of our community members. We find ourselves watching the watchmen, having to oversee both who controls education (legislation/private interests) and the structures of accountability and implementation (EOGOAC, PESB, and OSPI). 

After experiencing the rhetorical games, gaslighting, incrementalist reforms, and the exclusionary practices of the EOGOAC and OSPI, we zoomed out to the larger discourse around education in our second blog post. Here, our analysis looked at how the corporate local media, liberal and progressive legislators, and right-wing advocates have dominated the education advocacy discourse with a fear-mongering and limited framing for the value CRT brings to the path towards education liberation. Despite cooptation, misrepresentation, and out-right demonization of CRT, educator-organizers, led by POC-femmes, continue to fight for education justice and liberation using the framework of CRT. In this third post, we will zoom out further to do an analysis of the political-economic and legal structures that control our education system. We will continue to use CRT to recognize injustice in our education funding, respond to biases and inequities, redress the status-quo reforms of the past 50 years – including reparations and abolition of racist systems, actively cultivate equity in education and its funding, and build a system to sustain equity efforts for long-term solutions.

In order to combat the liberal “Culture War'” obfuscation, right-wing organizing, and attacks on CRT, we hope to begin to reframe the conversation of CRT’s influence in our political advocacy work and our vision for a decolonized ethnic studies. As Dr. David Stovall importantly reminded us in WAESN’s 4th Annual Assembly Panel on April 30th, 2022, in conversation with Dr. Anita Fernández (XITO) and our own WAESN organizers, we do this work in order to revolutionize our education system so it reflects the collective determination of our communities. This informative talk reminded us that schools are sites of struggles over collective memory and collective amnesia, and our work is grounded in the question of, “What knowledge should we pursue?” and, “How should we ensure accountability?” It also reminded us of the nature of our work. Firstly, CRT is a critical framework from which to engage in power analysis in pursuit of racial-justice, and secondly, we will be attacked, coopted, and excluded by the loudest, most powerful, moneyed voices.

session from WAESN’s 4th Annual Assembly on Organizing for Ethnic Studies

Many make claims as to the connections between CRT and education, so we want to clarify a few things before we continue. As we explained in part 2 of this blog series, many liberal education advocates circumscribe CRT (CRT-informed-teaching) as just a matter of curriculum/content in the classroom — i.e. teaching black authors or hiring black teachers. While these are fundamental demands of a CRT-informed politics of education, we must not limit the scope of CRT with changes of representation in the classroom. In pursuit of a just education system, we must extend our reading to the ways in which our classrooms are constructed, how our schools are funded, and our districts have been shaped by centuries of racial capitalism. In this post, we argue a CRT-informed politics of education must include the redistribution of funding. At WAESN, we believe that without recognizing inequity and historical injustices, CRT-lite curriculum changes proposed by liberals will not redressing the harm done to communities of color. We hope by reading this series, our readers understand that our current racial caste system is perpetuated by centuries of inadequate education funding and unjust revenue policy enacted by our state government. To put it in simpler terms, we will look into the recent history of where the money comes from, how it is collected, and where it goes. In an era of mass disillusionment and critical conscious raising impacts of COVID-19, the 2020 election, January 6th, and the 2020 BLM Uprising, we have the important duty to prepare our students for a changing world in perpetual crisis.

What is the McCleary Ruling? No equity, but more $.

Of all 50 states, only Washington declares providing basic public education as its “paramount duty.” Yet since the 1970s, Washington State courts have ruled that our legislators have failed to pass education policy that complies with our constitution. In the most recent case in 2012, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled in the McCleary case that our legislators had still not “amply funded” “basic education.” The EOGOAC was tasked with closing the achievement gap in 2009 following this decision. With the passing of legislation that increased spending from 2013-18 (incld. EHB2242), the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the state complied with the constitution to fund basic education in 2018. Some recent voices in education were placated by these education funding reforms and satisfied with the ruling. We at WAESN, among many other education advocates, are unconvinced that these changes did anything to redress the inequitable and inadequate funding policy of Washington State. In addition to failing to uphold effective community “accountability” mechanisms (the EOGOAC), our legislators have pushed through funding policy that has enabled historical inequity and injustice. We must watch the watchmen.  

It should be recognized that Washington State has significantly increased public spending on education since the 2012 McCleary ruling, as our legislators will quickly boast. State spending on public schools increased $14.2 billion or 110% from 2009–11 to 2019–21. By comparison, over the same period, all other state spending increased by just 52%. While much could be said for improving our national rankings from 29th to 18th in State spending on education per pupil, it does not mean we are making education our paramount duty here in Washington state, let alone are doing anything to redress historical inequities that our revenue and spending policies have created. Despite such increases, the achievement gap remains for students of color and our funding policy too often burdens working families.

In order to recognize injustice in our education funding and respond to the status-quo reforms of the past 50 years, we will turn our attention in the next installment of this series to the State’s reliance on property taxes to fund these budget increases, the problematic role local levies play in school funding, and finally how all of these reforms fail to take into account the legacies of racist policies that shape our communities, families, and classrooms.

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