Who is responsible for educating our children? Clearly, the Washington Legislature intended that our state take the lead.
Article IX of our state’s Constitution 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.” It requires the Legislature to “provide for a general and uniform system of public schools.” Article III, Section 22 establishes the office of superintendent of public instruction, an elected position that “shall have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools, and shall perform such specific duties as may be prescribed by law.”
The responsibility for establishing and operating the state’s school system was delegated to local independent school districts governed by “school directors” elected by the people. The Washington Supreme Court clearly threw a challenge recently to our Legislature with the McCleary decision where the court held that the state was not meeting its “paramount” duty of educating all of our children. Our Legislature is trying to figure out how to meet this challenge.
In addition to this ruling, the federal government is encroaching on states’ rights to supervise education in public school systems. In 1965, the federal government passed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESAEA). This act was a part of President Johnson’s War on Poverty. This attempted to address inequality of outcome of education where low-income neighborhood school students were not educated as well as those from higher income neighborhoods. The legislation had seven major components that hoped to address all the issues that were identified as barriers to a quality education for all.
The challenge of this legislation is that along with the law came new layers of bureaucracy and requirements. Some money was allocated to local school districts with little flexibility as to how this new source of money could be spent.
About 14 years ago, it was determined that ESAEA had not worked as well as intended. Students from low-income families were still underachieving, plus as a nation we seemed to be falling further and further behind in math and sciences compared with other modern economies. ESAEA was reauthorized as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and passed with bi-partisan support in 2002. New standards were set that all students were expected to meet or exceed by 2014. This “new and improved” legislation comes with little money, but a great deal of control that negatively affects our local school districts.
Where I think NCLB falls short is underestimating recent changes in society. It has assumed that the full responsibility for a lack of progress with our students is due to our schools. I see it as more complicated. For example, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average teenager spends 8 hours a day on electronic media (phones, TV, computers). They recommend this be limited to two hours a day. This excessive amount of time is linked to obesity, sleep trouble and issues at school. That is just one of many issues in our society that has changed in recent years.
Get the impact of federal encroachment on our local schools by attending the Columbia Basin Badger Club lunch forum Feb. 27 at the Richland Red Lion from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saundra Hill, superintendent of the Pasco School District and Dave Bond, superintendent of the Kennewick School District, will be our speakers. Call 736-1079 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to attend.