Our Constitution Requires Full Funding for Higher Ed

This article is dedicated to my 16 year old daughter Sierra. She is an Honors student at Mount Si High School in North Bend where she will soon be starting the 11th Grade. Her dream and the dream of many of her classmates is to graduate from high school and go on to college. This article explains why the dream of attending college will turn into a nightmare of debt for our kids unless voters in Washington State wake up and kick out the corrupt occupants of our State legislature – whose corruption is so extreme that they are killing the dreams of an entire generation of children simply to protect tax breaks for a few wealthy corporations like Microsoft and Boeing.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I was the first and only child in the history of my family to get a college degree. I went to Washington State University in the 1970’s when the State paid for 80% of my tuition. Because I scored in the top 1% on the Math SAT, I got scholarships for the remaining 20%. My family was so poor that my parents could barely pay their own expenses, much less send me to college. Going to college made a huge difference in my life. This is why, when my daughter was a baby, the first sentence I taught her to say was “I go to college.” She could say it before she turned One. So as the parent of a very bright 11th Grader, I am angered and appalled by how our legislature has gutted funding for higher education in the past 20 years. I hope you are too and I hope you take action to correct this problem in the 2016 election by voting for challengers in the coming elections rather than the incumbents in Olympia who have inflicted this devastating blow to the hopes and dreams of our children.


Historically, the Washington State legislature paid for about 75% of the cost of higher education and/or vocational training. Currently, the legislature pays for about 20% of the cost with students and their families paying the rest - which is why the average student winds up $40,000 or more in debt just trying to complete a 4 year degree required to get a good paying job.


If your parents are poor, forget it. Tens of thousands of students who qualified for State Need Grants in Washington state do not get the aid they qualified for because the legislature refuses to provide the funds.

In this article, we will take a closer look at the Washington State Constitution and explain why students have a Constitutional right to at least two years of free college and possibly even four years of free college. We will then describe our plan for providing every student in Washington State with two years of free higher education or vocational training.

How Higher Education in Washington State is Currently Funded
The total cost of higher education in Washington state is about $5 billion. The state legislature currently pays about $1 billion per year. The federal government and others also provide about $1 billion per year in scholarships (not including loans). This means that students and their families now must pay for the other $3 billion - whereas in the past, students and families only paid for about $1 billion. In the past, adjusting for inflation, the split was the equivalent of $3 billion State, $1 billion federal government and $1 billion families. This is why tuition has essentially tripled in the past 20 years.

Here is a graph of what it used to be in 1996 versus what it is today:


The Cost of Attending WSU or UW is now over $20,000 per year
Tuition and fees to attend Washington State University have skyrocketed since 1996. It is now about $12,000 per year. This does not include books or room and board which pushes the cost up to over $20,000 per year.


The lack of state support for higher education has resulted in Washington State students being forced to pay $4,000 more per year (for a total of more than $10,000 per year) just to attend college.


Where is all this $2 billion going now that used to go to Higher Ed???
The answer is that the entire $2 billion has been robbed from Higher Ed and given away in tax breaks for wealthy multinational corporations who pay for the re-election campaigns of our corrupt legislature. Tax breaks for these corporations have skyrocketed from $20 billion per year in 1996 to more than $36 billion per year today.


Our state is a literally a tax haven for billionaires and wealthy corporations. In fact, our state gives away $36 billion per year in tax breaks each year that go almost entirely to the very wealthy. These tax breaks are crazy because corporations like Microsoft and Boeing make more than $20 billion per year in profit. If we required them to pay their fair share, it would not hurt them because they could deduct their state taxes from their federal taxes.

Moreover, these tax breaks have not created any jobs! Ironically, almost none of these massive tax breaks are being used to create jobs here in Washington State. Instead, these billions of dollars are were used to build a non-union Boeing plant in South Carolina and invest in sweat shops in China. These tax breaks therefore serve only to eliminate jobs here and outsource them to other states and nations. So all these tax breaks really do is rob from our kids and our schools. Our kids deserve better than this. If we insisted that billionaires and wealthy corporations pay their fair share of state taxes by rolling back out of control corporate tax breaks!

These skyrocketing corporate tax breaks amount to a transfer in wealth of about $2 billion per year from the pockets of working families to wealthy multinational corporations like Microsoft and Boeing. Instead of granting billions of dollars in tax breaks to wealthy multinational corporations, while our college students are saddled with a lifetime of debt, it is time to demand that full funding not only be restored for K12 schools, - but also for higher education.

How this $2 billion per year wealth transfer harms students
Just when our young people should be planning on buying homes and starting families, they find themselves financially paralyzed by oppressive levels of debt.  This becomes a lifetime of debt thanks to a change in federal bankruptcy laws which prevent students who do not have jobs from discharging the debt. What makes all of this lifetime debt slavery burden even worse is that many college graduates are not able to get the “good jobs” that were promised them.  So with limited job prospects and suffocating levels of debt, this generation of young Americans is increasingly putting off major life commitments such as buying a home and getting married. Their problem is that earnings and debt aren’t moving in the same direction. From 2005 to 2012, average student loan debt has jumped 35%, adjusting for inflation, while the median salary has actually dropped by 2.2%.Last year it was reported that 34.9 percent of all student loan borrowers under the age of 30 are at least 90 days behind on their student loan payments.One survey found that 27 percent of those with student loan debt moved back in with their parents after college.

How Billions in Cuts by the Legislature Harms our Universities
State funding for the University of Washington and Washington State University were cut from 2008 to 2012. Our regional universities also were cut in half. One of the consequences of these devastating cuts was a huge reduction in faculty at our colleges and Universities. Between 2008 and 2012, the University of Washington eliminated over 1,000 positions. Washington State University eliminated sixteen degree programs, eliminated 1,000 courses and eliminated 581 faculty positions. Despite these reductions, our state universities were still forced to double student tuition shifting $2 billion of the cost of higher education from the state to students and their families.

On of the most significant bills transferring this burden onto the backs of working families was 2011 House Bill 1795 which "allowed our state's five universities to raise rates however much they needed during the next four years to make ends meet after their funding was gutted by the legislature. Seaquist and Reykdal not only voted for this bill - they were two of the bill's main sponsors!

Washington ranks near the bottom of the nation in higher education funding as a percent of income
As a consequence of draconian bills like 2011 House Bill 1795, state support for higher education fell more in Washington State than in any other state in the nation between 2008 to 2015. A November 2015 Report by the Urban Institute found that State support for higher education in Washington state was 20% below the national average as a percent of income. http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/alfresco/publication-pdfs/2000501-Financing-Public-Higher-Education-Variation-across-States.pdf

I will immediately restore $2 billion that has been cut from higher education in Washington state since 1996 plus add $2 billion per year to make higher education completely free
As Superintendent, I will take $4 billion from the $16 billion in repealed tax breaks to restore higher education funding. I will act quickly to save students more than $40,000 in tuition costs during their first four years of college. Restoring funding for higher education and public schools is not only the legal thing to do to comply with our state constitution, it is also the right thing to do economically as it would pump $16 billion per year back into Washington's local economy - creating more than 160,000 public sector jobs and more than 320,000 private sector jobs for a total of 480,000 urgently needed new good paying full time jobs. Right now, over half of all young adults under the age of 25 can not find a living wage job. If I am elected, we will put them all back to work.

Why the Washington State Legislature has Paramount Duty to Fully Fund Higher Education
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 K-12 School funding during the current economic recession. A myth has been promoted for years that our Constitution ONLY protects K12 education funding and not higher education funding. However, that myth is not true. Here we will review our state constitution to better understand why the drafters of our State Constitution also intended for higher education to be an integral part of our public school system.

Article IX of the Washington State Constitution declares:

SECTION 1 PREAMBLE. It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders...

SECTION 2 PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM. The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technicalschools as may hereafter be established.

It does not take a Supreme Court Justice to figure out that the paramount duty includes not only K12 education but the complete education of all children and that the system of public schools is not limited to just K12 schools but also includes "normal schools" which today we call Teachers

colleges and "technical schools" which includes public vocational schools, community colleges and public universities. The purpose of this complete system of public education was to provide students with the skills and knowledge needed to participate in the economy and in our democracy.

It is a basic fact that students need a post-secondary degree to compete in the modern-day economy.Cutting billions of dollars from one part of the system of public schools to save funding for some other part of the system of public schools - while at the same time giving billions in tax breaks to wealthy multinational corporations is a clear violation of our state constitution.

I have been writing articles about the paramount duty to fund higher education for more than 8 years. Thankfully, in January 2015, one of our state's leading constitutional scholars wrote a very detailed article agreeing with me. Hugh Spitzer, who teaches constitutional law at the University of Washington, said the same part of the state constitution that defined public education as the state’s “paramount duty” also defined the public school system as including normal schools and technical schools.

Here is a link to his legal analysis. http://digital.law.washington.edu/dspace-law/bitstream/handle/1773.1/1404/89WLRO15.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

But the reality is that the State Constitution was written in plain words by common people such that any of us can understand what it means. You do not need a law degree to figure out that the state’s obligation to provide for a general and uniform system of public schools, described in Article IX, Section 2, extends beyond the K-12 system to post-secondary teacher training and technical training. Historically all public schools in Washington state were free to all students between the ages of 4 to 24. All the way to 1915, all schools, including colleges and universities were free for all Washington residents. In 2015, the legislature imposed a tuition of $10 per year to attend the University of Washington.

Why Our Constitution Requires Full Funding for Higher Ed
First, let’s look at Article 9, Section 1 of our State Constitution:
It is the paramount duty of the state to make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders...

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 ample 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.

In 1829 Hall's'Lectures on School-Keeping' appeared--the first book in this country on the subject of teaching. It advocated the establishment of separate institution for the preparation of teachers and emphasized the necessity of improving the schools by improving the teachers." In 1838, the Massachusetts legislature passed the Normal School Act. 

The normal-school idea grew rapidly after the Civil War, and by 1910 virtually all of the state of the Union had enacted legislation for the establishment of teacher-training institution. With the growth of the idea that teachers need more than a minimum of preparation in order to do their work effectively has developed the idea of the teachers college--an institution with a curriculum designed to meet the special needs of teachers, just as a college of engineering endeavors to train engineers for their profession. In 1890, the State Normal School at Cheney was founded,

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: "Technical school... A post-secondary vocational school that trains students in a variety of skills, especially in the manual trades, health care and computer technology."

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: teachers colleges and technical colleges.

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 harmful to our system of public schools as cutting funding for our elementary schools, middle schools or high 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 $20 billion per year to more than $30 billion per year in just the past 20 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! I know because I was there and I spoke against renewing these $2.2 billion in tax breaks when the money was urgently needed to fund our public schools. Let me say this again. The legislature renewed $2.2 billion in tax breaks in less than 2 hours in January 2012 - but then claimed there was no money to fund schools! This experience is one of many reasons I have concluded that our legislature is corrupt and is never going to fund our schools.

It would take about $9 billion to amply fund K12 education – and another $2 billion to restore higher education funding to what it was in the 1980’s. So rolling back $11 billion in corporate tax breaks would still leave these give-aways to multinational corporations at $20 billion per year.

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. It would not harm our wealthy corporations to pay their fair share of State taxes because they could simply deduct their State taxes from their federal taxes. But it would allow our school children to attend much smaller classes and our college students to graduate from college with a much smaller debt and much higher chance of getting a good paying job.

How high does tuition have to go before parents wake up and realize that they and their children are being robbed?

How many teachers have to be fired before we start to fight back?

How many more children’s lives need to be destroyed with high debt, high unemployment and no hope for any kind of a happy future before we end the corruption in Washington State by rolling back these out of control corporate tax breaks?

It is not our public schools or our colleges which are broken. It is corporate corruption of Olympia that needs to be fixed. Elections are about what kind of future our children will have. The current disaster in school funding and higher education funding is the result of corporations buying the past several elections - and transferring the tax burden from them to you and your children.

Are we going to let them buy the 2016 election too? Or will we say enough is enough? My daughter’s future and that of all of her friends and the future of one million K12 students and 400,000 higher education students are in your hands. As always, we look forward to your questions and comments.

David Spring M. Ed.
David (at) Spring for Better Schools (dot) org