The Washington state Supreme Court has ordered the state to a Sept. 7 hearing to answer a series of questions — the latest step in the tricky task of resolving the court’s McCleary decision.
OLYMPIA — The state Supreme Court has ordered the state to appear in court before the justices decide whether to lift or add to sanctions in the McCleary school-funding case.
In an order released Thursday, the justices listed the questions they want the state and the plaintiffs to answer in a hearing scheduled for Sept. 7.
In general, the justices want to hear the state’s explanation for why its most recent school-funding plan for the court’s McCleary decision should be considered sufficient.
The questions include:
• How much more money the state needs to spend to fully cover the costs of a basic education for all students, as the court ordered in 2012.
• The estimated cost of providing market-rate salaries for school employees. Lawmakers have been hung up on that part, because school districts use local property-tax levies to supplement what the state provides for salaries. The McCleary ruling said the state must pay for those salaries as part of a basic education.
• Whether the 2018 deadline for complying with the court’s order means the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, or the end of 2018, or “some other date.”
Some estimates have put the cost of fixing the school salaries and levy issues at around $3.5 billion every two years.
“What remains to be done to achieve compliance is undeniably huge, but it is not undefinable,” wrote the justices in the unanimous order. “At this juncture … the State can certainly set out for the court and the people of Washington the detailed steps it must take to accomplish its goals by the end of the next legislative session.”
Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 6195, which set up a special task force that will gather data and come up with proposed solutions around teacher pay and levy reform. In its regular update to the court, the state argued that SB 6195 along with previous work on education funding should count as the funding plan that the justices have requested.
Consultants conducting research for the McCleary task force are expected to provide a tentative cost estimate by the end of August, according to Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah.
Task-force members will not have an opportunity to vet or agree on any cost estimate by Sept. 7, said Magendanz, a member of the task force.
For that reason, he said he doesn’t think it’s a good idea to share any preliminary numbers.
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Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, said the court’s order is “accelerating the discussion, which is fair.”
The task force may not have fully tackled the questions asked by the court until December — if at all, according to Rolfes. That is just shy of the 2017 legislative session that begins in January.
And the court order “highlighted things that should have been in the plan, that we should have agreed on last session,” said Rolfes, who also serves on the task force.
Although lawmakers and Gov. Jay Inslee have poured billions into K-12 education, they’ve stalled on finishing the final elements to comply with the McCleary ruling.
Because of that, the court is holding the state in contempt. Last August, the court ordered the state to pay a $100,000-per-day fine for not making enough progress.