As Washington schools prepare for the return of nearly 1 million children this fall, new mandates from Olympia are presenting challenges for local districts. The Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction indicated that districts would face funding cuts if they don’t comply with state public health orders.
State Sen. Phil Fortunato is urging the state’s 295 independent school boards to stand up against the threat and do what’s best for their communities, arguing that the state’s constitution is clear about school funding.
“We just spent nearly a decade in court over school funding. The state has a clear constitutional obligation to fund our schools and educate our children,” Fortunato said. “That doesn’t stop because a politician throws a tantrum and tries to override local control. The state superintendent may think it’s appropriate to punish students by cutting funding, but I don’t, and the courts likely won’t either.”
In a letter to districts, Superintendent Reykdal wrote, “Boards or districts that intentionally disobey, dismiss, or shun an explicit law, including a Governor’s executive order, which has the power of law, will see an immediate halt to their basic education apportionment, and their federal funds that come through OSPI.”
Some districts are pushing back. The Okanogan School District sent a detailed letter to the governor asking him to reverse course, wanting instead to implement optional mask wearing in schools.
“These decisions should be at the discretion of locally elected school boards,” said Fortunato, R-Auburn. “I believe that our schools should stand up to bullying and do what they think is best. Threatening to withhold funding from students who’ve already lost so much learning due to the pandemic is appalling.”
The U.S. Department of Education said Monday it would continue financial support for school districts that defy state-level orders where bans on mask mandates are in effect.