A recent report by the Washington Policy Center has asked the thorny question if public school district money was given to help cover legal fees from the McCleary Education lawsuit.  Turns out, it appears so, and two of our three Tri-City Districts pitched in.

In 2007, an previously unknown advocacy group called Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS) sued the state of Washington, it's citizens and legislature for allegedly not funding education according to the State Constitution.  The case wound up before the State Supreme Court. It became known as The McCleary Decision.

Eventually the Court agreed, and set forth certain spending levels to be reached by the House and Senate.  This was considered a controversial decision, as many question if the court has the power to "order" the legislature to do so.  The McCleary Decision also mandates the money be spent, regardless of the state's economic forecast.  This year it's floating around $3.6-3-8 billion.   The legislature has found the funding to meet the requirements this year, but has not acted upon I-1351, which also mandates smaller class sizes. It creates another projected $4 billion dollar liability over the next few years.  I-1351 would ultimately bring in an extra $33 million to the WEA.

The McCleary decision since has been used, say some critics, as a political club by the WEA to push for more and more spending on education, some of which benefits the union.

Protests over spending and class sizes were the cause of the recent teacher walkouts.

NOW,  Newstalk 870 has learned from documents provided by the Washington Policy Center, that Pasco and Richland contributed a total of $55,000 to NEWS to help with the legal fees for the McCleary suit.  The money came from the school districts themselves, not outside sources.

Newstalk obtained a PDF showing between August 2006 and July 2012, Pasco contributed a total of $40,000 towards NEWS's legal fees, while Richland donated $15,000 between September 2010 and April 2014. The information received by Newstalk 870 doesn't list any contributions by the Kennewick School District.

In layman's terms Richland and Pasco gave money to an advocacy group to help defray legal costs for a lawsuit that ultimately, in the long run, benefits the WEA, or the teachers union.  Below is a copy of an email from the Pasco School District confirming the money was given:

Dear Mr. Strawn,

 In response to your request for information on “the total amount of contributions the Pasco School District has given to the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools (NEWS) organization and the dates those contributions were made” please see the following:

 Aug. 31, 2006     $10,000

July 10, 2007       $10,000

2011                       $5,000

Aug. 31, 2012     $15,000


 Leslee Caul Director of Public Affairs-Public Records Officer

At issue is the idea of school districts engaging in support of lawsuits or other related political activity.  Critics say the nearly $588,000 contributed by nearly 30 districts across the state could have been spent elsewhere on programs.

Should public school districts engage in legal or political activity, especially that which in the long run benefits their parent union, the Washington Education Association?


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