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McCleary family fighting state for education funding says latest legislative plan falls short

CHIMACUM, Wash. — In rural Jefferson County sits the small town of Chimacum, and within the agricultural community is a longtime resident whose name has become well-known in the state in the fight for full education funding.

“At times I feel really proud, overwhelmed,” Stephanie McCleary said Thursday.

In January 2012, the state Supreme Court ruled on what they coined the McCleary decision, siding with Stephanie McCleary and other plaintiffs who sued the state for not fully funding public education. Justice Debra Stephens ruled the Legislature has failed to fulfill its paramount duty to “make ample provision for the education of all children residing within its borders…”

The lawsuit had been filed in 2007 on behalf of Matthew and Stephanie McCleary and their two children, and Robert and Patty Venema and their two children.

“My daughter, when she was in freshman year of high school, the teacher was making math sheets on a half a piece of paper, Xeroxing it front and back,” McCleary said.

Working for the Chimacum School District, McCleary sees the inequities and the day-in and day-out struggles inside the classroom.

“While I appreciate raising my kids in a small town, I feel like, on the other hand, they are being shortchanged,” McCleary said.

So with her two children at stake, a small-town mom joined a statewide fight.

“Carter was 8 and Kelsey was 13,” McCleary said.

Never did she think the battle for education funding would last year after year after year.

“It’s hard to believe,” McCleary said.

Her then 8-year-old son, Carter, is now a young man.

“After 10 years of going to court and fighting for schools to be amply funded, I haven't seen a single penny of change,” Carter McCleary said.

After years of indecision on how to raise the billions needed to fully fund state education, lawmakers this year passed a plan that they called "historic."

For the McClearys, it's a slap in the face.

"For Chimacum (School District), we lose $1 million out of our budget, that's huge, that's huge,” Stephanie McCleary said.

The fallout for Chimacum does not happen in the next two years but in 2019 when the local levy restrictions under the plan kick in.

Although the state plans to pump more than $7 billion into schools in the next four years, school districts are capped at how many local levy dollars they can raise.

“In 2019, $3 billion rolls back from the levies, leaving a $4.3 billion net,” McCleary said.

She said that is far from complying with the court's orders.

“I have lost faith in the lawmakers, for sure. I haven't lost faith in the Supreme Court; my hope is that the Supreme Court keeps them in contempt" and sends them back to the drawing board, McCleary said.

“There is a whole state of children that needs this to happen,” McCleary said.

The future of more than a million children is worth fighting for, she added.

Meanwhile, Carter graduated from high school and on Thursday leaves for an out-of-state college.

“To go to Willamette University (in Salem, Ore.), I am going to play soccer there and study chemical engineering,” Carter McCleary said.

Carter said he made the best of an education system that many times lacked the resources he needed.

State lawmakers say their deal this year has a good chance of meeting the demands of the state Supreme Court.

But the attorney for the McClearys, Tom Ahearne, said that on Aug. 30 he will ask the justices to keep the state in contempt.

If that happens, lawmakers will have until early 2018 to meet the court’s demands.

If they don’t, consequences vary from closing down schools or getting rid of corporate tax breaks in order to generate more money for schools.