As summer draws to an end and school is about to begin, I want to take some time to give you an update about the events that have occurred since session came to a close.
As you may have heard, the Washington Supreme Court recently released a new order in the McCleary case that holds the state in contempt. It fines the state $100,000 per day to pay for basic education until we solve its unconstitutional dependence on local levies to pay for personnel costs and the cost of construction of new classrooms. Additionally, the Court expressed concern about the pace of the phase-in of class size reductions.
Regardless of any action taken by the Supreme Court, it is our responsibility to find solutions addressing school employee compensation issues. We have worked to amply fund education over the past ten years. In fact, we passed bills redefining basic education funding and accountability in 2009 and 2010. We have continued to improve K-12 fund since then, and have not missed a statutory deadline.
This past session, the legislature passed the phase-in plan that completely pays for the class size reductions called for in the McCleary order. The Court recognizes this but continues to be concerned about the phase-in of lower class sizes. We intend to work with the court to clarify the issue, but are on track to meet this first phase of our McCleary goals by 2018.
The second phase is more difficult. It is critical that we find solutions that pay for basic education-related salaries without relying on local levies. The House proposed a joint process to resolve the personnel cost issue with the Senate and Governor’s office this last session. It also passed legislation (HB 2239) on June 26 that would establish this process. However, our efforts were thwarted by the Senate’s refusal to take up the bill or offer any alternative.
While efforts continue in the House to find solutions that reform how we pay for personnel costs, they are continually impeded by the Senate’s unwillingness to join this conversation. I understand that members of the Senate and House disagree on many things, but it is important to remember that it is our constitutional obligation to amply provide for the education of all children in Washington.
I would like to share with you some answers to the questions I’ve received regarding the Supreme Court Order:
Q: What do you think about a special session?
That’s the Governor’s call. However, I’m not sure we want to go back into session without a plan in place. While the Governor has requested all four caucuses appoint two legislators to work together, to date the Senate Republicans have refused.
Q: You knew this would be an issue, yet you left Olympia without a solution, which was basically inviting the court to act. Why didn’t you just resolve the matter while you were in session?
The House tried. You might remember the House passed HB 2239 in June that put in place a planning process addressing funding and levy reliance. That bill would probably have helped us avoid sanctions, but it didn’t get a hearing in the Senate.
Q: You say you’re on track to fund the first phase of McCleary, yet the Court used an example of underfunded K-3 class sizes in the 2015-17 budget as an example of lack of adequate progress.
I believe there’s a misunderstanding between the Court and the Legislature on what we adopted this session regarding K-3 class sizes. According to non-partisan legislative staff analysis, we are on track to meeting our K-3 class size reduction goals.
This is a simple misunderstanding we have with the court that can be easily clarified.
Q: Why couldn’t you just go with the Senate’s plan?
There is no “Senate Plan.” The one bill they introduced – a solution that relied completely on a massive property tax hike – never even made it out of committee in the Senate. That bill was problematic.
Q: It does seem more revenue is needed given the size of this hole, especially when you include the levy fix. What kind of revenue are you talking about?
It’s too early to go into detail. I think we need to start with all options on the table, then examine what will work. But that would come after we define the problem more clearly and look for options to shrink the hole.
Q: Do you worry about the fine? Does that compel you to go to special session quickly?
I don’t like the fine. If HB 2239 had made it to the Governor’s desk we wouldn’t be talking about a fine today. Remember that any money collected will go right back to basic education – money we would have invested there anyway.