The “mission accomplished” banner was hung prematurely in the state Legislature. The Supreme Court should retain jurisdiction on the McCleary case and tell lawmakers to keep working.
A decade ago, a coalition of parents, teachers, school districts and community groups sued the state over the way Washington pays for public schools. And despite the “mission accomplished” pronouncements from Olympia this summer, the lawsuit that led to the 2012 McCleary decision is not over yet.
The Washington Supreme Court convenes Tuesday to hear the attorney general’s office argue the education budget reform work is finished. The lawyer representing the coalition that sued the state will contend Washington is still failing to amply fund public schools, as the Washington Constitution requires.
The Supreme Court has given the Legislature until the beginning of the 2018 school year to fully fund public schools in Washington and pay for the reforms they passed, from all-day kindergarten to smaller classes. After the hearing Tuesday, the justices will decide soon whether the Legislature has met its orders concerning the McCleary case.
The Supreme Court should not rubber stamp the Legislature’s work and join the premature celebration. The work is not finished, and the children of Washington depend on the Legislature and the Supreme Court getting McCleary right.
Across the state, school districts report they still won’t have enough state dollars to pay the full cost of special education, an important component of basic education. Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal says the budget is $130.5 million short for special education. Some school administrators are worried the new approach to teacher pay will hurt their ability to recruit the best — or any — teachers for their classrooms.
And without a capital budget to pay for more classroom space, how can the Legislature say it has fully paid the cost of reforms like smaller class sizes? About $1 billion in the capital budget was for new schools.
Districts are worried about the way state funding will go up and down over the next few years, partly because of the way the new funding system was designed.
The Legislature has made tremendous progress toward fixing the way the state pays for public schools. But with its action so far, it will not meet the court’s demand to amply fund basic education by the beginning of the 2018-19 school year.
No matter how much more money is plowed into Washington public schools and no matter where the money comes from, the court should not call the McCleary solution adequate until school districts have enough money to fully implement the state’s definition of basic education. Anything less is certainly not ample.
The state education budget must be designed to end the untenable inequity in student experiences across the state. Without ample funding, smartly distributed with careful accountability, outcomes are not likely to change under the new way of education funding.
So far, no one knows the full impact of the Legislature’s McCleary deal. School districts and state officials have been crunching the numbers for months, but the full impact may not be known for years.
At minimum, the justices should retain jurisdiction over the case, continue to watch the Legislature and make sure it fulfills its obligation to the more than 1 million school children in Washington state. Keep the pressure on until the mission really is accomplished.