What’s in “McCleary?”

In 2012 the Washington State Supreme Court found that Washington State is not funding our education system at anything close to the level the constitution requires. Just before the holidays the court opined again, that

“the overall level of funding remains below the levels that have been declared constitutionally inadequate.” (Washington State Supreme Court, 2012)

On the Legislative side the Joint Task Force on Education Finance report issued in December 2012 detailed an eventual cost of about $4.5 billion dollars per biennium in additional funding needed to meet the court’s definition of “constitutionally adequate.” Arguments that the court isn’t talking about funding are belied by the quote above.

Despite protestations to the contrary, this session the Legislature needs to make steady progress towards completely meeting the court’s requirement by 2018. There are 5 school years between now and 2018, and “steady progress” means we get about 2/5ths of the way to the complete solution, or about $1.7 billion.

The Legislature clarified the definition of “basic education” in a seminal bill in 2009. (HB 2261) That same year HB 2276 laid out an implementation schedule for some of the parts of 2261 that were clearly understood. The Supreme Court called out the two bills above as a good outline. To understand our obligations under this decision it’s useful to break the bills apart a little.

First, districts are currently paying for many services that are part of the legal definition of “basic education,” and that consequently the state should be paying for. Some examples:

  • Transportation of students who live outside a 1-mile radius of the school.
  • Materials, supplies and other operating costs. (MSOC) We’ve done study after study on this and have a good handle on how much it is – this is stuff like textbooks, heat for the building, copier paper, etc.

Second, improved instruction for very young children was called out in HB 2776 and very few districts are funding it today.

  • All-day kindergarten. Many districts provide this for tuition, but charging tuition means that low-income kids who need it most can’t afford it.
  • Reduced class size (to 17 per class) in kindergarten through third grade.

Third, HB 2261 called for more rigorous graduation requirements and more instructional time to allow kids to achieve them. The Legislature has not adopted a schedule for paying for these yet, but they are clearly called for in HB 2261.

  • Increase in instructional time for middle and high school students to 1080 hours from the 1000 we require today. This is another two weeks of school time that could be accommodated in many ways, and was added to the definition of basic education to allow enough time for a 6-period day in middle and high schools.
  • Expanding the number of credits required to graduate from high school to 24 from the 20 we require today. This would include the distribution requirements the State Board of Education (SBE) is recommending, which bring our high school education system into the 21st century. (Washington State Board of Education, 2011)

Fourth, local taxpayers are paying salaries the state is supposed to be paying. (Quality Education Council Compensation Technical Working Group, 2012) The costs of employees in the model school definition are a state responsibility and the state should be covering reasonable costs for them. Forcing districts to pay for staff the state requires that they hire puts a burden on local taxpayers that’s unfair to districts without a substantial tax base of commercial property. It’s important to know that there is no proposal to increase salaries, just have the state pay instead of local taxpayers.

The table below is from the Final Report of the Joint Task Force on Education Funding. (Joint Task Force on Education Funding, 2012)

JTFEF Spending plan

There was some disagreement about the numbers in the report, with a minority proposal that left local taxpayers paying for state obligations for some compensation costs and that included only parts of the “Career and College Ready” item, but both reports agreed on the substantive core of the costs. The committee proposal here for 2013-15 is less than 2/5 of the eventual solution, but has a rational basis, which seems like a reasonable starting position.

The problem of the regional differences in teacher salaries remains unresolved and will require significant work in the 2013 Legislative session.

In conclusion, the total cost of funding our obligation to basic education will range from about $3.5 billion in the minority report to about $4.5 billion in the majority report. There are five school years remaining in the phase-in period, and consequently we should fund at least 2/5 of the increment in this two-year budget.

Works Cited

Joint Task Force on Education Funding. (2012, December 31). Joint Task Force on Education Funding Final Report. Retrieved from http://www.leg.wa.gov/JointCommittees/EFTF/Documents/JTFEF%20Final%20Report%20-%20combined%20(2).pdf

Quality Education Council Compensation Technical Working Group. (2012). Compensation Technical Working Group Final Report. Retrieved from http://www.k12.wa.us/Compensation/CompTechWorkGroupReport/CompTechWorkGroup.pdf

Taylor, D. L. (2012). But Are They Competitive in Seattle? An Analysis of Educator and Comparable Non-educator Salaries in the State of Washington. Retrieved from http://www.k12.wa.us/Compensation/pubdocs/CompetitiveSeattle.pdf

Washington State Board of Education. (2011, December 19). State Board of Education Career and College- Ready Graduation Requirements. Retrieved from http://www.sbe.wa.gov/documents/2011.01.01%20Framework%20Details%20Document%20as%20Adopted%20in%20November%202010.pdf

Washington State Legislature. (2009, May 19). Bill Information for HB 2261. Retrieved from http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=2261&year=2009

Washington State Legislature. (2009, May 19). Bill Information for HB 2776. Retrieved from http://apps.leg.wa.gov/billinfo/summary.aspx?bill=2776&year=2009

Washington State Supreme Court. (2012, January 5). Majority Supreme Court Opinion in Mathew & Stephanie McCleary et al. v. State of Washington. Retrieved from http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/843627.opn.pdf#xml=

Washington State Supreme Court. (2012, December 20). Supreme Court Order re: McCleary, et al. v. State with dissent by Justice J.M. Johnson. Retrieved from Washington State Supreme Court: http://www.courts.wa.gov/content/publicUpload/Supreme%20Court%20News/84362-7%20-%20McCleary,%20et%20al.%20v.%20State%2012-20-12%20order%20with%20dissent.pdf


Author: Ross

I am the Director of the Department of Early Learning for Washington State. I formerly represented the 48th Legislative District in the State House of Representatives, chairing the Appropriations committee and spent many a year at Microsoft.