As compromise remains elusive in the Washington Legislature, school districts are left with the familiar exercise of planning their next year budget without a clear expectation of how much money to expect from the state.
The temperature is rising in Olympia — and it’s not just because warmer spring weather is finally here.
Business groups and the state’s largest teachers union took aim at the Washington Legislature this week as compromise remains elusive for a final fix to the landmark McCleary school-funding case.
Over the next two weeks, teachers plan to make daily visits to the Capitol as a way to pressure Republican lawmakers to satisfy a court order to fully fund public schools. Private industry groups, meanwhile, took their criticism of Democrats to the airwaves, buying TV ad time to oppose new and higher taxes for some businesses.
And what about school districts? They’re about to resort to crystal balls as they try to plan their 2017-18 school budgets without a clear indication of how much money they can expect from the state.
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Here’s a roundup of all the McCleary action over the past week:
On Friday, TVW — the C-SPAN of Washington state — aired two useful primers on what brought the Legislature to this point and how much work it has left to do.
“There’s the absolute minimum in order to meet a court interest, which I think is sort of the least common denominator in this debate,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal said on the TVW program “Inside Olympia.”
“Just satisfying the court is not our real purpose,” he said.
The Supreme Court has ordered the state to pick up the full tab of salaries for all school workers, and Reykdal said his office estimated the price tag at a conservative $1.5 billion each year.
And, he noted, that’s not including what it would cost to fully fund special education, career and technical programs or other K-12 priorities.
The Columbian on Sunday highlighted a familiar exercise for many school districts: Approving next year’s budget in the midst of special overtime sessions in Olympia.
In 2013 and 2015, for example, legislative work dragged into June and July, respectively, and “left few days and limited staff working at district offices to complete school budgets,” reporter Katie Gillespie wrote.
District must prepare an annual budget for public review and comment by July 10 at the latest. But as The Olympian noted later in the week, crafting a compromise on McCleary could take lawmakers several more months of negotiations.
Local unions plan to send members to Olympia every day through May 12 to advocate for smaller classes, better pay and increased funding.
House Democrats heard from critics of its plan to raise taxes to fix McCleary.
On Tuesday, a TV ad from Washington Realtors and other business groups started airing,criticizing Democratic leaders of “squeezing” taxpayers.
The ad includes video of a squeezed lemon, referring to the tax package that House Democrats included as part of their McCleary plan.
Also Tuesday, the House Finance Committee heard public testimony on two measures that would limit tax credits for Boeing to the size of its workforce in Washington and funnel any money regained by the state into an education account.
“Everything is on the table,” said Democratic Rep. Kristine Lytton, chairwoman of the committee.