Full Funding for Higher Ed Required by our State Constitution

The claim has been made that the legislature had to cut billions of dollars from higher education funding because our Constitution prohibited them from making cuts from Basic Public School funding. There is a myth that has been promoted for years that our Constitution ONLY protects basic education funding and not higher education funding. However, that myth is not true. First, let’s look at Article 9, Section 1 of our State Constitution:

The word PARAMOUNT means top priority or most important. Giving billions of dollars in tax breaks to wealthy multinational corporations should not be a higher priority than providing for the education of all of the children in our State.

The next question is what is meant by making provision for the education of the children. Some would like to limit this term to merely providing for a teacher. But in fact, making provisions also includes providing buses to bring children from their homes to their public school. It also includes building and repairing schools so that teachers have a safe and secure place in which to teach our children. The State must pay not only a portion of the cost of operating and building and repairing schools, but the ENTIRE cost of operating, constructing and repairing public schools.

But “the education of all children” as defined in our State Constitution does not merely mean reading writing and arithmetic. Instead, the drafters of our State Constitution meant the total education of our children – total as in preparing children to be active members of our democracy and also total is in preparing children to actually get a job and be successful in life. Let’s take a look at what the drafters of our State Constitution stated should be included in our Public School System Below is a chart which depicts the public school system as intended by the Washington State Constitution:

At the beginning of Article 9, Section 2, our Constitution says “The legislature shall provide for…”. The word SHALL means that it is a mandatory duty. If it were an optional duty, the drafters of our Constitution would have said “The legislature MAY provide for. “

Note that our Constitution specifically refers to four kinds of schools as being part of the “system of public schools.” The myth is that our Constitution only requires funding the elementary schools and secondary schools (Grades K through 12). However, our State Constitution also requires ample funding for public normal schools and public technical schools. 

The next questions are: What is meant by a NORMAL school? And what is meant by a TECHNICAL school? 

The drafters of our State Constitution meant something other than elementary schools or high schools in referring to normal schools and technical skills. If these were the same as elementary schools and high schools, there would have been no need for the added language. The drafters also felt it was so important to include these two extra kinds of schools that they specifically included both kinds in the State Constitution.

Finally, by using the term “technical schools as may hereafter be established”, the drafters of our State Constitution realized that the need for post-secondary education may be greater in the future than it was in 1889. They wanted to make sure that the State would provide schools for the total education of children for any future occupations and not merely for the occupations that existed in 1889. 

Because our State Constitution was intended to be written in plain English, we can look at a dictionary to learn what words mean. But because the words are 100 years old, we should also look at a 100 year old dictionary or history book to see what those words used to mean.

Here is the history of the term normal school from Wikipedia.org:

A normal school is a school created to train high school graduates to be teachers. Its purpose is to establish teaching standards or norms, hence its name. Most such schools are now called teachers’ colleges; however, in some places, the term normal school is still used.

Teachers Colleges were initially a two year program and in 1920 to 1930 gradually extended to a four year program. At the time, there were three normal schools in our State. Currently, most teachers colleges are a 5 year program with the expectation that teachers will eventually have a Master’s Degree and 6 to 7 years of training.

Below is the definition of technical school from the American Heritage Dictionary:

Obviously the drafters of our State Constitution did not intend that all students would be trained in computer technology. But they did intend that the system of public education funded by the State should include two post-secondary forms of education:

First, the drafters of our State Constitution specifically intended that Public Teachers Colleges would be an integral part of our system of public schools. This makes sense when one realizes that we have to train teachers in order to have teachers to teach children.

Washington State Normal School, in Ellensburg Washington, established by the Washington State legislature in 1890, the year after the State Constitution was drafted. The purpose of this normal school was to train teachers to teach in Washington’s common schools and high schools. Students attended this normal school free of charge. In 1937, the name of this school was changed to Central Washington College of Education. In 1961, the name was changed to Central Washington State College. In 1977, the name was changed to Central Washington University.

Barge Hall, the first normal school building in Washington State was built at the Washington State Normal School in Ellensburg in 1893 and is now part of the national historic registry.

Our State now calls our public teachers colleges “Colleges of Education.” There are several public teachers colleges in our State – with the main ones being at the University of Washington, Washington State University, Western Washington University, Central Washington University and Eastern Washington University. Cutting funding for any of these teachers colleges is just as bad as cutting funding for our public schools.

Second, the drafters of our State Constitution specifically intended that Public Technical Colleges would be an integral part of our system of public schools. As mentioned about, these technical schools were not merely high schools as there would have been no need to add the words technical schools if all that was intended was public high schools. There was only one possible reason to add the term technical school to the Constitution and that was that the system of education should also include the kind of training that would help children get a job.

Today, we call such schools Public Vocational Technical Colleges. These include Lake Washington Voc-Tech in Kirkland and Bates Voc-Tech in Tacoma.

The only question remaining is whether the drafters of our State Constitution intended for the public school system to be limited to elementary schools, secondary schools, teachers colleges and technical colleges?

Here we must look at the phrase “as may hereafter be established.” The drafters of our Constitution understood that future jobs might require more training than jobs did in 1889. In fact, that is the case today. Our legislature has established all kinds of community colleges and public universities and work training centers all over the State – just as anticipated by the drafters of our State Constitution. Every one of these public colleges and universities were intended to be part of our State’s system of Public Schools. Seen in this broader and more accurate light, the legislature has a paramount duty to amply fund colleges and universities to the same extent that they have to fully fund our K-12 public schools.

How can the legislature fully fund colleges when it has failed to fully fund public schools?
Our legislature has repeatedly claimed that it had no other option but to cut funding for public schools and colleges. This claim is false. The legislature could have instead cut some of the billions of dollars in corporate tax breaks it has been giving away during the past few years. Corporate tax breaks have skyrocketed from $22 billion per year to $44 billion per year in just the past 12 years.

In January 2012, just weeks after our Supreme Court found that the legislature had failed meet their Constitutional duty to fund the public schools the legislature renewed $2.2 billion in corporate tax breaks – in a single afternoon!

It would take about $3 billion to restore K-12 funding to the national average – and another $3 billion to restore higher education funding to what it was in the 1980’s. Even rolling back $6 billion in corporate tax breaks would still leave these give-aways to multinational corporations much higher than they were in 2000.

Instead of saddling our children with thousands of dollars in debt just to prepare themselves for a meaningful career, it is time to demand that our legislature honor not only their duty to fully find K-12 schools, but also to fully fund higher education.

Originally published at springforhouse.org.

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