For all Washington's fretting over state funding for education, there are people in Oregon who would love to have Washington's problems.
One of them is Martha Guise, the principal of Century High School in Hillsboro, who allows that “the grass is always greener” on the other side of the Columbia River, which separates the two states.
Hillsboro is a fast-growing suburb of Portland. Century High School counts the children of Intel employees among its students. But funding is unstable and there are frequent waves of cuts. The average class size at Century High is 34.
Oregon’s education system is ranked bottom 10 in the nation, worse than Washington, which is in the lower middle. Funding is a factor, and so is who pays.
In Washington the constitution says the state is supposed to pay in full for education – it’s the state’s first duty. But the Supreme Court says the state is not fulfilling its obligations, and a showdown is brewing.
In Oregon, the constitution doesn't say that. Until the 1990s, local property taxes paid for education. Then voters put a cap on property tax increases and the burden began to shift toward the state. So the state contributes more funding but must squeeze education in among its other functions.
Principal Martha Guise observed that Oregon's Supreme Court hasn't ordered anyone to solve the underfunding of education.
“It’s a funny feeling to have, because you (in Washington) … have a Supreme Court that said, ‘Hey you have to do this.’ And that presents its own challenges. But I think we look at that with a little bit of envy.”