Gov. Jay Inslee should call a special session of the Legislature to fully fund basic education.
WASHINGTON state’s school-financing system has been inadequate, broken and inequitable for three decades. On Thursday, after multiple warnings, the state Supreme Court issued a new order in the landmark McCleary case putting a price tag on the failure to fix it: $100,000 a day in fines.
The penalty follows the court holding the state — the governor and the Legislature — in contempt 11 months ago. Despite a regular session and three overtime sessions, lawmakers still could not satisfy the court.
No more delays. Gov. Jay Inslee should show the type of bold leadership on the systemic solutions that he did not show during the six months of legislative sessions. He should work with legislative leaders to hatch a plan and then reconvene the full Legislature as soon as possible. Lawmakers must also set aside partisanship and ideology to find a sustainable new education-funding model.
The Legislature made admirable progress toward fuller funding of education in the recent marathon session. But the Supreme Court wants more detailed plans of how the state will pay for the space required for reduced K-3 class sizes and all-day kindergarten. The new order also rightly emphasized the state’s constitutional obligation to pay for teachers’ salaries. The broken school-financing model foists nearly one-third of compensation onto school levies, leaving have and have-not districts in rich and poor corners of the state.
The pieces to fix this problem are already on the table in Olympia. Bipartisan negotiations in the state Senate zeroed in on a new system to replace local levy funding for basic education with state dollars. The hardest part — paying the estimated $3.5 billion tab every two years — was left unfinished, earning the Supreme Court’s rebuke.
A bill that big requires new revenue. The Seattle Times editorial board sides with a new tax on capital gains — the Democrats’ preferred funding option — because it is fairer than a property-tax hike backed by Republicans.
But if the state is going to pick up more of the tab for teachers’ salaries, it also must be able to have statewide collective bargaining of contracts, rather than district-negotiated contracts — something Republicans prefer.
This is a moment for the Legislature — with the governor in the lead — to find the middle. Delay costs $100,000 a day in fines, which go into a dedicated education account. In the context of a $38 billion budget, that is small. But the fine indicates the Supreme Court’s growing frustration — delay further, and the Legislature and governor risk a crankier court.
Worse, delay crystallizes funding inequities for students for another year.
This is a problem three decades in the making; 2015 should be the year it is fixed.