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Afternoon Jolt

The Washington State Supreme Court issued an opinion this afternoon about the extra $982 million in K-12 funding that the legislature put in the state budget this biennium to meet the court's 2012 McCleary ruling that the state had to stop ignoring its constitutional mandate and fully fund basic education.

The $982 million extra—on top of the the $14.22 billion they spent just to maintain the status quo—was a 6.7 percent increase. 

Calling the 6.7 percent increase "modest"; saying "the inescapable fact is that the salaries for educators in Washington are no better now than when this case went to trial"; noting that the legislature fell short on three out of four specific funding targets including school transportation ($9.9 million short), basic materials and supplies ($223.1 million short), and class-size reductions ($115.6 million short) for 2013-2015; and saying the state "cannot realistically claim to have made significant progress," eight of the nine justices signed an order today.

Concluding that "The need for immediate action could not be more apparent," the court gave the legislature an assignment for its supposed off-budgeting-year session: Do some damn budgeting.

PubliCola crunched these numbers back in late August, by the way, and found the exact same thing.

In their order, the justices go on to say: "We have no wish to be forced into entering specific funding directives to the State, or, as some state high courts have done, holding the legislature in contempt of court. But, it is incumbent upon the state to demonstrate, through immediate, concrete action, that it is making real and measurable progress, not simply promises. ...

"Toward that end, it is hereby ordered: the State shall submit, no later than April 30, 2014, a complete plan for fully implementing its program of basic education for each school year between now and the 2017-18 school year."

In addition to falling short this biennium, the court also pointed out that their initial 2012 decision that the state must fully fund K-12 education by 2018 also calls for an extra $3.3 billion in the 2015-2017 biennium; and an extra $4.5 billion by the 2017-19 biennium.

Strangely, the court did not note that $521 million of the $982 million came from one-time fixes and fund transfers, defying the court's mandate for "stable" funding.

Governor Jay Inslee said in a statement: 

“I agree with the court’s view that we made significant progress in the current budget toward meeting our basic education obligations. I also share the court’s concern about the pace we are moving and about all of the work that remains undone. 

“As I discussed when releasing my 2014 supplemental budget, the state will need an estimated $5 billion over the next two biennia to fully implement the Legislature’s McCleary response, keep up with enrollment increases and provide teacher COLAs.

“I fully expect we’ll continue our vigorous discussion about closing tax loopholes and other sustainable strategies to fund our children’s education. As I said last month, we cannot — and will not — meet all these needs and obligations by cutting services to vulnerable children and adults, higher education and communities."

State Sen. Steve Litzow (R-41, Mercer Island), the GOP's senate education committee chair, issued the following statement: "The Court's response was exactly what we expected. They acknowledged that the Legislature made significant progress and they want more, which is something we share. I look forward to continue working with the House of Representatives to provide the investment and systemic reforms required to make sure every child in Washington state has the educational opportunity to be successful in today's global economy."

 

State Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-34, Maury Island), the senate Democratic leader, issued a longer statement:

“We were not surprised by the Supreme Court’s statement today. As we said in the Democratic draft report of the Article IX Committee, while the 2013-15 budget made progress in some areas of basic education funding, the Legislature failed to make significant progress towards fully funding key priorities that we all know will help our children learn.

The Court ordered the Legislature to outline our plan for implementing full funding of basic education by 2018. The Joint Task Force on Education Funding’s report offered recommendations for such a plan before the 2013 session. Democrats introduced legislation to outline such a plan last year but neither bill received a hearing. We extend our hand to work in coordination with Senate Republicans to pass legislation this year, as ordered by Court.

This plan must include provisions for funding the state’s share of teacher compensation, which has gone underfunded for far too long. We want every child to have a great teacher, but to hire those great teachers we need to pay a competitive salary and we’re dumping a huge share of the burden onto our local districts. Having a teacher in the classroom is a basic part of a kid’s education, and as the Court says, the state needs to fully fund its share of the cost. As the court says, 'nothing could be more basic than adequate pay' for teachers.

We hope that Republicans will join us in approaching the challenge with open minds and a collaborative approach and will work with us to find the money that the Court demands and that our kids deserve.

And her colleague, the Democrats' new deputy leader, state Sen. David Frockt (D-46, N. Seattle), read this session's new court-ordered assignment as something of a lucky break for more time from the court. "If you don't want us to come in and tell you what to do," Frockt said, summarizing the court's decision, the court is giving the state more time to come up with a plan.

Frockt, noting that the legislature has only "made some investments, but not nearly enough" to meet McCleary, said, "we have some time to work together [with the Republicans] and come up with a plan."

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