In its latest ruling, the Washington Supreme Court is telling the Legislature it has not yet met the requirements of fully funding K-12 education system.
No big surprise in the latest McCleary ruling by the Washington Supreme Court: The Legislature has come up short in meeting requirements set forth by the court in its sweeping school-funding ruling.
While ambitious, the legislative effort to pump billions more into public schools since the 2012 McCleary ruling is still about $1 billion shy of “ample funding” to meet a fall 2018 deadline.
Because the Legislature’s work is not yet done, the court on Wednesday said it will retain jurisdiction, continue to impose a daily fine of $100,000 and reserve all “enforcement options.” It ordered the Legislature to report on its progress by April 2018.
It’s now up to Gov. Jay Inslee and lawmakers to get the ball across the goal line, starting Jan. 8 when the Legislature returns to work. Failure is not an option, and anything short of success will be remembered by voters in November 2018.
Of course, it’s the more than 1 million schoolchildren in Washington state who must live with the consequences of a school system that has been starved for funding for decades. Every Washington child deserves a quality education that sets them up for success in college or career training after high school graduation.
Even before this week’s Supreme Court ruling, school districts across the state were reporting problems with the new state funding system, including inadequate dollars for special education. That will need to be fixed, as well.
While the Democrats will enjoy a majority in both houses and the governor’s office, they still likely will be wary of enacting big new taxes before they face voters in November 2018. But new taxes may not be necessary.
The court estimates finishing the work by September 2018 will take an extra $1 billion. That’s not out of reach for a state with a two-year budget of $43.7 billion.
The court showed little sympathy to the state’s argument that it needed extra time to phase in the new state property taxes for schools. Deputy Solicitor General Alan Copsey told the court that the legislative efforts to date had “lots of moving parts that have to occur in a choreographed sequence,” which cannot be accomplished “all of a sudden,” without undue disruption.
As the justices so eloquently stated: “The need to act ‘all of a sudden’ is of the Legislature’s own doing, and if its hands are tied, it tied them.” In 2009, the Legislature set the Sept. 1, 2018, deadline in its own ambitious plan for education reform.
The McCleary family, for whom the ruling is named, and all the other families in Washington state have been waiting for the Legislature to fulfill its promises and fully pay the cost of its own definition of basic education.
We’re still waiting.