State court's ruling on state education funding leaves community 'needing' more

Patti Rossener, a mother of four children, has fought countless times for her children’s education. And, even though the Washington Supreme Court ruled in favor of students by stating that the state is underfunding education, she’s not going to be quiet.

“I think that it’s a start,” she said last week. “But I would like to see immediate action taken by the Legislature.”

The Washington Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that the state has failed to adequately fund public education for students. This type of challenge to school funding had not been reviewed by the court since more than 30 years ago.

“The State has failed to meet its duty under article IX, section 1 [of the state Constitution which makes it the paramount duty of the State to amply provide for the education of all children within its borders] by consistently providing school districts with a level of resources that falls short of the actual costs of the basic education program,” stated the court’s Jan. 5 opinion.

The judiciary will watch the situation and “help facilitate progress in the State’s plan to fully implement the reforms by 2018,” the opinion continued.

In Central Kitsap and Bremerton, many parents and teachers think the ruling is a positive step in the right direction while some think that the ruling doesn’t mean anything since it is not an action that will have an immediate affect on students.

“If education is such a priority in this state and the Constitution is supposed to help our kids excel, why is this decline taking place?” said Rossener, whose children are in the Central Kitsap School District. “It’s really frustrating.”

Rossener admitted that she wasn’t always involved as a parent but a “turning point” came when her son, who is autistic and in fourth grade, moved from a self-contained classroom to his first year in a general education classroom. Parents do not have to be part of the PTA or a committee to be informed and involved, but they need to start somewhere, she said.

“There should be equal shares of blame on the state and the people who don’t get out there and advocate for their kids,” she added.

Regina Hill, who has a son and a step-daughter in the Central Kitsap School District, also said parent-advocacy is always essential.

“We need to be in Olympia saying ‘Why isn’t this being done?’” she said.

Hill has taken people to Olympia on African American Legislative Day and volunteers at her son’s elementary school. But it isn’t enough for one group to be working toward the cause of improving education for all students.

“We’ve got to work together,” Hill said. “Parents, educators and students.”

For some teachers, the “waiting until 2018”-bit sticks in their head more than the ruling.

“I’m hesitantly optimistic,” said Greg Raymond, a social studies teacher at Bremerton High School. “I’m not too sure what that will actually amount to.”

Raymond, who is in his 15th year teaching in the Bremerton School District and is also a Bremerton Education Association representative, said from his high school educator’s eyes, he continues to see limitations to how he teaches.

Class sizes continue to increase and there is a noticeable lack of materials, Raymond said. His classroom is equipped with 32 desks but when he has a class of 34 students — which has happened — he has to borrow desks from a next-door teacher and shove them in where he can make space. Last school year there was a social studies teacher who had 38 students enrolled in one class, he said.

“Those are times when you go ‘OK, this is becoming a negative situation,’” he said.

And in order for the situation to not continue to spiral toward negativity — or for action to actual happen before 2018, Raymond said the community should make their voices be heard by writing to legislators, adding that it’s now easier to do since there are online methods.

With the “deadline” for the state to improve the way it funds education, students who are currently in seventh grade and higher, will be out of public education system.

“Even though there is a deadline, what gets done today impacts the education students receive today,” said Kirstin Nicholson, president of Central Kitsap Education Association. “Our students can’t wait until 2018.”

Nicholson added that the ruling isn’t anything new.

“The ruling supports what those of us in education have been saying for years,” she said.

JD Sweet, a history teacher at Central Kitsap High School, echoed that the situation is not a new story to anyone.

“There’s no courage to do what needs to be done,” Sweet said. “It doesn’t look like it’ll make any difference.”

Raymond, who comes from a family of teachers, said he knew the environment wouldn’t be the same as when his parents or uncles and aunts taught. But, he said he didn’t know how different it would be as well.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be all Pollyanna and a perfect world,” he said. “What I know is teaching, and I know it’s getting hit pretty hard.”

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