The Legislature has once again failed to complete its paramount duty and amply fund K-12 schools as its regular session closes. Here is the editorial board’s report card.
Term: 2017 regular session.
Lawmakers failed once again to complete their work in a timely manner. The state’s paramount duty is to amply fund public schools so every child has equal opportunity to succeed. The regular session ends this weekend with the Democrat-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate failing to agree on how much to spend on schools, who should pay, how to ensure funding is spent properly and on effective reforms to improve outcomes for kids.
Turns in work on time | Grade: F
In 2012, the state Supreme Court called the Legislature and governor on the carpet for failing to amply fund public K-12 schools. Justices levied penalties, including holding them in contempt of court and fining them $100,000 a day. Lawmakers asked for an extension last year, to do research during the break and get a fast start this year. Now the session is at the close, the work is incomplete and a special overtime session will be convened. Some are delaying this further by calling for a fall referendum.
Fiscal responsibility | Grade: D-
Senate proposal funds schools with counterproductive cuts to early education and the social safety net. House proposal funds schools as part of an overly expansive tax and spending plan that irresponsibly continues reliance on local levies, which perpetuate inequities between districts.
Effort | Grade: B
Several key legislators have devoted countless hours to fixing this mess and produced commendable proposals to improve outcomes for students. Elements of their work should be merged into a bipartisan plan that substantially improves K-12 schools and ends funding disparities among districts. Even so, the overall Legislature prioritized less important tasks over its paramount duty.
Plays well with others | Grade: F
Partisanship is as bad as ever. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are stubbornly prioritizing party and power over the many children being failed by the state’s inequitable school system.
Accountability | Grade: D
Reforms enacted in recent years remain unfunded as lawmakers dither and bicker over which taxpayers should pay more. Additional reforms proposed this year are incomplete until the funding plan is final. Both parties and chambers abandoned the obvious, smart reform of collective bargaining for teachers across the state. Once the state fully funds schools, educators are in effect state employees. They should have regionally adjusted salary schedules negotiated by the state and not district by district. That would be more efficient and predictable and help ensure money is spent appropriately — so, for instance, state funding for supplies won’t be bargained away locally, leaving schools to again beg parents to buy pencils and paper.
Transparency | Grade: D
Failed to provide adequate time for the public and schools to review and comment before voting on education plans. Lawmakers continue exempting themselves from the state Public Records Act. Overly complicated funding schemes obscure the actual burden on taxpayers. Making education fixes part of overall budget process blurred focus on paramount duty.
Detention, in Olympia, until the work is finished. At risk of expulsion.