We're not lawyers, but reading the Washington State Supreme Court's decision in McCleary v. State (the court ruled this morning that the state had shirked its responsibility to fund K-12 education) felt like reading one of those damning federal court orders to put a bankrupt business or corrupt union in receivership.[pullquote]There's a trend here about local political leadership. And it's not a good one.[/pullquote]
The court agreed with the education and community advocate plaintiffs' primary claim (and compelling catch phrase) that the state wasn't living up to its constitutionally-mandated "paramount duty" to fund education. And they said the legislature had to come up with a plan to fund basic education, as defined in the sweeping 2009 education reform bill, which has basically turned into an unfunded mandate.
To make sure that happens, the court said, they were going to play bad cop. After citing example after example of reform legislation passed by the legislature that's gone unfunded—for example, only 22 percent of school districts got funding for mandated all-day kindergarten; $214 million has been cut from mandated class size funding; and only $5 million has been spent toward an annual $100 million shortfall in school transportation funding—the bossy and skeptical court wrote:
This court cannot idly stand by as the legislature makes unfulfilled promises for reform. We therefore reject as a viable remedy the State's invitation for the court simply to defer to the legislature's implementation of [the education bill]. At the same time, we recognize that Plaintiffs' proposal to set an absolute deadline for compliance in the next year is unrealistic. The changes that have taken place during the pendency of this case illustrate that any firm deadline will, of necessity, be moved. A better way forward is for the judiciary to retain jurisdiction over this case to monitor implementation of the reforms under [the education bill], and more generally, the State's compliance with its paramount duty.
As Rick Chisa, Director of Public School Employees of WA/SEIU Local 1948 (the statewide K-12 support staff union), said today, “In essence, it’s as if the Supreme Court has put the legislature on probation for the next six years. Everything the legislature does in regards to education will be measured in terms of meeting the constitution’s mandate of ample funding for our public schools."
This is the second time in less than a month that Mom and Dad have had to step in to try and fix seemingly intractable policy problems that our state and local political leaders have failed to deal with. The other high-profile fiasco that required a grownup to step in, of course, involved the city's failure to exercise credible oversight of the SPD—an interminable back-and-forth between the city and the cop union that, last month, finally forced the DOJ to issue a blistering report and say they were stepping in to babysit.
There's a trend here about local political leadership. And it's not a good one. The literal loser today is the legislature (for getting put under de facto receivership by the state Supreme Court).
But pull back the camera and we'd have to say, looking at the DOJ report and today's Supreme Court decision together, the real loser is the public which is wanting for leadership.