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Is School Funding a Simple Decision?

By Guest Columnist Nancy Churchill Running a public school district would probably be pretty easy if each district were just given a big pot of money from the local, state, and federal governments they could use in any way they wanted. If the district could just put all the money to its highest and best use… we’d have great schools. When we look at the overall money flowing in, it seems like there should be more than enough.

Unfortunately, school boards are bound by state law, legal decisions and by rules issued by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction and other state agencies, like the Department of Health. It turns out being a school board member and managing the school budget is a bit like trying to dance in a straightjacket. Much of the time, the board members have their hands tied, and their feet are shackled too. Our school board members are doing difficult work under difficult circumstances.


Transportation money must go for transportation, even if you don’t need another bus, and really need to fix the school roof. Money allocated for curriculum must go to new curriculum even if you need to repair plumbing more than purchase new books. It’s like that for every type of funding, from every funding source.



If you’re a parent or grandparent, you may have had the experience of taking your student to a large sports competition at a facility with many fields or courts. It’s chaotic and confusing. The players have to find the right field at the right time or they hurt their team’s chances.


In politics, we have the same problem – many fields of play. There’s federal, state, and local fields of play. School funding comes from all three levels and then the local board is left to juggle the allocations it receives from each funding source.


At the federal level, education is broken. It’s broken is so many ways that it’s hard to name them all. Broken funding rules are only part of the problem. At the federal level, we need a complete overhaul. “Defund public education” is the battle cry of many dissatisfied parents and taxpayers.

Things are not much better at the state level. The 2014 McCleary decision didn’t fix state education funding—it actually raised property taxes and made everything worse! (tinyurl.com/5n7ccm48)


Under McCleary, big wealthy districts like Bellevue, Issaquah, and Kirkland have been able to build education “castles” and install polo fields, while small rural schools can’t even repair the roof! That’s because when an employer leaves a small town, families and students leave too, leaving the school with the same basic funding needs, but fewer students to provide the funding. State education funding is still broken, and small town schools are suffering because of it.


School funding IS broken, but it’s not the fault of the school district or the school board.


Unfortunately, due to the McCleary decision, small rural schools need levy funding, just to be able to deliver what many consider to be an essential part of a quality education: music, sports, and clubs.


Public education is the path out of poverty for many rural communities. Public education doesn’t just benefit students; we all benefit from the direct investment in education, although we may not see it for 10 or even 20 years when students return to their home town after getting a higher education or having a career elsewhere.


We have examples among us like a small town sports star who returned home to become a county commissioner or an experienced doctor returning to his small town roots to deliver quality medical care to the community. Our community is full of local education success stories like these. Local education levies are a direct investment in the future of our community.


Voting against the local rural school levy is like playing on the wrong field. It will hurt our community and our students, and do nothing to solve the real problem. Please support our local school levy and invest in the future prosperity of this wonderful place. I encourage you to focus your frustration on repairing the balance of power in the state legislature so we can get out from under the boot heels of progressive urban Democratic leaders who care nothing for the needs of rural Washington schools.


Get involved in developing the solution, so our property tax payers get some relief. The field of play for fixing education funding is not at the local level. The problem of school funding must be fixed at the state legislature. Let’s focus on developing state-level funding solutions for education as we work to improve rural school districts all across the state of Washington.


Nancy Churchill is the state committeewoman for the Ferry County Republican Party. She may be reached at DangerousRhetoric@pm.me. The opinions expressed in Dangerous Rhetoric are her own.



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