In times of budget deficits, education has always been an easy place for the government to cut funding. With the latest $2 billion shortfall in state revenue, the governor had plans to regain some of this money by making more reductions to education’s budget, but it may not be so easy this time. In a showdown between Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn and Governor Gregoire, Dorn is refusing to hand over a list of possible cuts.
Dorn sent the governor a letter last week with his refusal to tell her ways to cut education funding. In this letter he said, “I cannot in good conscience submit a budget that is consistent with [your] requirements.”
Dorn says that making these reductions would be a violation of the state constitution and his own oath of office.
According to the state constitution, the state government must fully fund basic education; it was ruled by the King County court last year that the state was indeed overstepping its boundaries, but that decision has been under debate since it was made and is in the process of an appeal.
This refusal is more of a symbolic move than a practical one. Dorn himself, along with all other parties involved, has recognized that cuts in education funding are inevitable when the state Legislature meets in November to decide formally what is to be done about the revenue shortfall.
Dorn is making a statement that the necessary money should come from other places before it comes from education, however, with a deficit like this one, education will be cut; the only question is where those cuts will come from.
Spokesman for the governor Cory Curtis said that by refusing to send a list of budget reduction ideas, Dorn was making it harder for the legislature to make “the best decision for the kids.”
According to a spokesman from the state Office of Financial Management, that office will identify potential education funding cuts on its own, although Dorn’s office will still be consulted.
Unsurprisingly, Seattle education officials are supporting Dorn. Seattle School Board Member Peter Maier “State Superintendent Dorn has taken a strong stance, and a strong stance is warranted. The state needs to stop using cuts to education as an answer.”
According to executive director of Seattle teacher’s union Glenn Bafia, further education cuts would do “permanent harm to students.”
The governor asked all state agencies to submit a plan detailing how each individual section could cope with ten percent budget cuts. All agencies replied by the deadline of September 22 except for Dorn.
“We get that Randy Dorn doesn’t want to do this, we empathize with that,” said Curtis. “The governor doesn’t want to do this either. But we have to do this, and everyone else is coming to the table with various options so we can at least have a dialogue about it.”
This is not the first time the Gregoire and Dorn have clashed; their most notable previous disagreement was over the governor’s plan to create a unified State Department of Education. Under this plan, Dorn would have reported to her. Dorn called this plan a ‘smoke screen’. It was never passed.
Spokesmen for both officials say that this letter and current disagreement is one strictly over policy; both have utmost respect for one another and this event will have no bearing over their interaction in the future.