A Community Website by Lopez Island
Started by Chris Greacen
May 24, 2023
We need to work together. Olympia caused our school's financial crisis
May 24, 2023
The Washington State Constitution, article IX, § 1 states that “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.”

Unfortunately, the state is failing to make anywhere near adequate, never mind ample provision for the education of its children.

In 2017 the legislature restricted the ability of schools across Washington state to collect only $2,500 per full time student annually in enrichment levies. We used to receive, and need, about $4,100 per student in levy funding.

This enrichment levy is one that Lopez residents vote on every few years. Lopez voters have been consistently generous in approving, overwhelmingly, these levies. But the school is legally unable to collect the full amount that Lopez voters overwhelmingly approve and that we desperately need.

When I was on the board (2017-21), every year we lobbied for legislation that would change the one offending sentence that cripples our school's finances and is at the heart of the RIFs that teachers and parents have correctly identify as an existential threat to our school and our community. We wrote letters. We met on video calls and on phone calls and in person with our elected legislators down in Olympia. We travelled down to Olympia to testify. We wrote newspaper articles and spoke with reporters. Teachers and parents joined us in communicating with Olympia. We had success with some legislators -- some of whom deeply cared enough to draft and introduce legislation in response to our analysis and outreach. Unfortunately, legislation that would make the necessary changes always died in committee or on the floor of the legislature. The state fundamentally doesn't have a funding formula that addresses the costs of small rural schools like ours. For want of a few small words in the enrichment levy law, we're completely hamstrung.

A second way the state is failing is that it fails to fully fund special education. Brazenly and mind-bogglingly unjust, the state has a law that it will only reimburse schools for special education costs up to 13% of the student body. At Lopez school 26% of our students are in special ed. The state does and should require that schools provide the services that students with special needs require. The state should also pay for these. It doesn't. The situation makes cruel mockery of the hollow "ample provision" words in the constitution.

Our community is right to be pissed off about this. But we're pointing the cannons in the wrong direction. The community outrage here should not be directed at the board. It should be directed at the state, which has failed us for the past six years. We should stand behind our elected leaders like Council Jane Fuller, like representative Alex Ramel and senator Liz Lovelett -- leaders who get it and are working against an overwhelming tide of apathy and indifference at the state level to solve this problem. We don't have much time.