Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn is nothing if not blunt. When asked if the state is meeting its constitutional "paramount duty ... to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders," Dorn unhesitatingly responds: "No. No we're not."
Not exactly a stunning observation in and of itself, if not for the fact that it's coming from the statewide elected official tasked with overseeing this paramount duty.
Last month, when Gov. Chris Gregoire asked department heads to each propose another 10 percent in cuts from their own budgets, Dorn politely refused, insisting we're already underfunding K-12 education. But with the legislature preparing to go into special session to close another $2 billion budget hole, he's bracing himself for further cuts. Possible money-saving targets, Dorn warns, include levy equalization, K-3 enhancement, or even shortening the school year. But Dorn suggests that if legislators want to cut basic education any further, "maybe they should try to pass a constitutional amendment redefining the paramount duty to a lower standard."
Dorn hopes that a state Supreme Court ruling on the paramount duty issue could come prior to the special session, forcing legislators to do the right thing. "When one branch of government tells another that it's not doing its job, it can change behavior," Dorn suggests. Dorn himself was a member of the legislature in 1993, when he joined fellow Democrats in voting to raise taxes in order to sustain education funding. "I knew by taking those votes, I would likely lose my next election," says Dorn. He did.
"It was one of the best votes I ever took."
Here's hoping today's legislators prove just as selfless.