Legislative leaders said Thursday they still haven’t resolved where to find the money to reform the way the state pays for education, and likely won’t get there until the 2017 Legislature.
OLYMPIA — Legislative leaders said Thursday they still haven’t resolved where to find the money to reform the way the state pays for education, and likely won’t get there until the 2017 Legislature.
During the annual Associated Press Legislative Preview, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan said the Legislature is under pressure from both the courts and state law to finally resolve the complicated budget issues at the heart of the Supreme Court ruling known as the McCleary decision.
In their ruling, the justices said the state wasn’t spending enough on basic education, including teacher salaries, and districts had to depend too much on local tax levies.
The Legislature faces a 2018 deadline to finish paying for its previous commitments to improve education.
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A scheduled end to some financial support for local schools, including state levy equalization and a boost to the amount local school districts can collect, may put more pressure on the Legislature than the 2012 McCleary ruling.
“There will be districts that will go bankrupt if we don’t solve the problem,” said Sullivan, D-Covington.
Senate Majority Leader Mark Schoesler also expressed confidence that the Legislature can get its education work done, noting that lawmakers found a bipartisan solution to transportation funding last year.
“When we need to work together, we have shown that we can do it,” said Schoesler, R-Ritzville.
Although lawmakers have many other priorities this year — from mental health to state prisons and wildfires — House Speaker Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, said that nothing will take priority over education funding.
Gov. Jay Inslee said a bipartisan group working on education funding has made excellent progress since the last legislative session ended and has reached substantial common ground.
Lawmakers serving on that work group said they will have a plan to discuss and vote on, and that they are working to get buy-in from their political caucuses.
“Progress is slow because we need to bring our colleagues along. We also need to bring the public along,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island.
Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, noted that the Legislature has made progress during the past few years on raising education spending, but the local levy issue is a bigger, more difficult problem because it involves inequity among school districts and the education students are getting across the state.
“This equity issue is complicated,” he said.
Some of that plan, which has not been released, will focus on getting more data to figure out exactly how much money the state needs to end its overreliance on local levies for basic education funding.
Democrats on Thursday said that number is about $3.5 billion.
But Republicans say all estimates are just that until they have the data from local school districts about how much of their levy dollars are paying for basic education expenses like classroom-teacher salaries.
Members of both parties emphasized that the state’s education-funding problem is not an issue of trying to satisfy the Supreme Court.
“This is about the education of our children, not just the court order,” said Inslee, who is also concerned about a current teacher shortage.