Guest Opinion: Time for legislators to step up, fully fund schools

  • Wednesday, January 25, 2017 1:30am
  • Opinion

I was just a 7-year-old kid in second grade when my family filed the lawsuit that bears our last name.

They did it for me and for my big sister Kelsey and for every other kid getting short-changed in public schools all across Washington.

Today, I’m 17 and a senior in high school. Kelsey is 23 and a senior in college. It’s too late for us. But it’s not too late for a million other kids who’ll be in our schools next year.

As the Legislature begins work this month to do what the courts have told them to do in the McCleary school funding case, I hope legislators won’t continue delaying. When the legislative session ends, I hope I can proudly say that everything my family fought for over the last 10 years mattered.

Of course, when my family filed this lawsuit in 2007, I was too young to understand it all. But then we won the case in 2010 and the court ordered the state to stop violating students’ rights! I thought things would start to change right away at my school.

Wow, was I wrong.

Even after the Supreme Court upheld our victory in 2012, we still don’t have new textbooks or enough of them for every student in my school. (My calculus book this year was published in 1994.) We still don’t have real, dedicated computer labs or enough advanced classes, especially in STEM subjects. (I never did get the chance to take chemistry, which would have helped my plans to study engineering in college.)

We still can take only two years of a foreign language and my only choices are Spanish and French. We still crowd into classrooms and have doors falling off bathroom stalls.

I started getting involved with the case first-hand when I was a teenager. I remember the first time I went to a hearing at the Washington State Supreme Court, listening to the state’s lawyer promise over and over again that the “ample” funding required by the constitution was coming soon. But that wasn’t true and the Supreme Court later found the state in contempt.

I’m embarrassed for legislators. Aren’t’ they supposed to be law-makers instead of law-breakers? How could people elected to represent us refuse to obey the law?

Now, time’s run out. Legislators have to do something this year. I’m frustrated that it’s taking them so long to do what they’ve always known our state constitution requires them to do: amply fund all our K-12 public schools first, before anything else, because that’s their “paramount duty.”

I’m old enough and smart enough to understand that it won’t be easy. Fully complying with the court orders and our constitution will require legislators to invest billions more dollars in our public schools.

But we don’t elect people to do easy things. We elect them to do what’s right.

It’s right to obey court orders and our constitution, to be a statesman first and a Republican or Democrat second, to put what’s best for our state and our future above politics. It’s right to give each and every kid in our K-12 public schools the great education promised by our constitution.

It’s finally time, isn’t it?

Carter McCleary’s parents are the lead plaintiffs in the McCleary lawsuit that led to a 2012 state Supreme Court decision, which ordered the Legislature to raise education funding.

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Don C. Brunell is a business analyst, writer and columnist. He recently retired as president of the Association of Washington Business, the state’s oldest and largest business organization, and now lives in Vancouver. He can be contacted at
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