Earlier this year, the Washington State Supreme Court followed up its 2012 McCleary decision (mandating that the state legislature fully fund K-12 education by 2018) with an order that the legislature, which in the court's opinion hadn't yet done enough to meet the mandate, present the court with a plan by April 30 outlining how they planned to make it happen.
The legislature did put about $1 billion extra (on top of the status quo $15 billion) into K-12 education this biennium. However, nonpartisan staff estimated that the state needed to put about $1.4 billion extra into K-12 over the biennium. (It's also important to note that about $500 million of the $1 billion came in one-time funds and transfers.) The court documented the shortfall in its January letter and also said that teacher compensation needed to bumped up by about $1.5 billion by 2018, increasing the demand on the state.
All in all, with the salary increases; this biennium's $400 million shortfall; and non-partisan estimates calling for an increase to $3.3 billion in the 2015-2017 biennium and $4.5 billion in the 2017-2019 biennium, the state is looking at finding an extra $5 billion over the next four years.
And this brings me to today's Isn't it Weird that item. Isn't it Weird that state Rep. Cathy Dahlquist (R-31, Enumclaw), who took the dramatic step this week of challenging the incumbent Republican state senator in her district, Sen. Pam Roach (R-31, Auburn), as the education candidate, is siding with the GOP party line that the legislature did enough this biennium on K-12 funding and doesn't owe the court an explanation of how they plan to meet the McCleary mandate.
Asked about the GOP's disdain for the court this session, Dahlquist said: "Yeah, the court did issue an order. Yes, they want an answer by the 30th of this month. Do I believe they're going to get that? No. I don't think it's possible."
"Yeah, the court did issue an order. Yes, they want an answer by the 30th of this month. Do I believe they're going to get that? No."
She went on to say that the legislature passed some key bills this year, such as clarifying the 24-credit requirement to graduate high school, that addressed McCleary. But the she said a supplemental budget year is not the time to make major budgeting fixes and that the funding plan—which she acknowledged "was going to be difficult to get to those numbers by 2018"—would be hashed out in the next session.
As for this year, she said: "It's going to be documented what we did do [such as adding about $50 million to basic K-12 classroom supplies and materials]. Was it everything they wanted? No. But was it some? Yes."
The bipartisan legislative committee created to communicate with the court about McCleary—two Democrats and two Republicans from each chamber (Dahlquist isn't on the committee)—is meeting on April 14 to begin working on a report to the court.
Committee member state Sen. David Frockt (D-46, N. Seattle) says they will assess what they've done to date and discuss potential options going forward such as a GOP proposal (panned by lefties) that automatically assigns two-thirds of new revenue growth to education, and the Democrats' ongoing proposal to close tax breaks and putting the new revenue toward education.
"I don't know what we're going to say," Frockt says. "We really didn't pass a formal plan for implementing how we get there, which is what they asked us to do. And I think the court is going to have a hard time with that."
Frockt concluded: "What the court doesn't understand is that there's no political consensus."