The latest decision from the court is available here.
The slide deck this particular image is from is available here. This was used in the November 16, 2017 House Appropriations Committee meeting and is another excellent product from Jessica Harrell, the education expert serving Appropriations – someone I depended on for many years.
It’s pretty exciting to see the progress being made towards adequacy and equity in the education funding system. This isn’t an optimal solution from my point of view, but it’s vastly better than what the system looked like in 2002 when I got peeved enough about it to run for office.
It was worth 13 years of my life to get this done. We now have full-day Kindergarten in every school in the state, not just the ones in rich suburbs that could afford it. Class sizes in K-3 are much more reasonable. Schools have enough money to cover reasonable transportation costs and the cost of materials and supplies they need to run a school. Most particularly, salaries are addressed so that there isn’t a huge disparity between districts.
I have quibbles about the details. It’ll need tweaking over time. It’s half of the state budget, so the Legislature shouldpay attention.
In addition, I would recommend that you look at some of the posts I’ve done over the past few years on school funding and the Supreme Court. There are a number of candidates this year that are arguing that the court has overstepped its boundaries – getting “too big for it’s britches” might be a way of saying it in the vernacular. I totally disagree, and my argument is here.
The Legislature has made significant progress toward fully funding basic education. In the last three years, we’ve reduced K-3 class sizes, funded all-day kindergarten, and provided kids adequate materials and supplies for their classrooms. But there’s one critical and final component we must deal with – teacher compensation and local levies. The chart below should start to explain the problem.
This chart shows how teacher salaries have been constructed since 1996. The gray portion at the top is the part provided by local levies, not by the state.
Teacher salaries aren’t the only cost. School districts also pay classified staff and administrators, and the split between state and local funding is even greater for these categories than it is for teachers.
There are lots of reasons for this. Some make sense given how the system works and some are the result of the legislature skipping cost of living (COLA) increases during the recent recession. When the Legislature doesn’t fund COLAs, but the local district wants to fund them (in order to actually be able to hire competent teachers) they use money raised in local levies to do so. If it was just extra, above and beyond what is needed to actually be able to hire, this would be expensive, but not a constitutional problem. However, every study that we’ve done shows that they’re paying just about what the market needs them to pay to be able to hire and retain competent employees. The court ruled this unconstitutional because it’s the State’s responsibility to adequately fund basic education, and we’re shirking that duty by foisting part of the cost on local districts. Continue reading “McCleary Phase II”
19 members of the Republican caucus in the Washington State Senate released an open letter today complaining about a “constitutional crisis” between the Legislature and the Supreme Court over the McCleary decision and the court’s recent order. While the order is politically and practically inconvenient, I don’t see any better way to get the state to comply with our paramount duty – to amply provide for the education of all children residing within our borders.
In dealing with the McCleary case the Supreme Court has taken measured steps to get the Legislature to comply with the paramount duty clause of the constitution. In every circumstance they have chosen the least intrusive measure they could have. Many members of the Republican caucus in the Senate seem to be upset about this and want to eliminate the court’s ability to enforce the constitution.
If Republicans want to change the system to avoid this kind of conflict they can either remove the ability to have the court enforce the basic tenets of the constitution, or they can remove the paramount duty clause. I don’t support either, and neither will the voters.
Many forms of Government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. Sir Winston Churchill, Hansard, November 11, 1947
The Supreme Court released a new order in the McCleary case this morning, holding the state in contempt and fining it $100,000 per day (to pay for basic education) until it resolves the remaining issues, including both the unconstitutional dependence on local levies to pay for basic education personnel costs and the cost of construction of new classroom space. They also expressed concern about the pace of the phase-in of class size reductions.
It’s important to know that the phase-in plan in the budget we passed this year completely pays for the class size reductions called for in the McCleary order. The court recognized the work done by the Legislature in funding class size reductions, but seems to be concerned about the phase-in of lower class sizes. There is some confusion in how the cost of this investment is described in various documents, and we will work with the court to clarify this. The attached chart shows the level of funded class size and those recommended by the task force the court refers to.
House Democrats proposed a joint process to resolve the personnel cost issue with the Senate and Governor’s office and passed legislation (HB 2239) putting the process in place on June 26th. The Republicans in the Senate refused to take up the bill or offer any alternative.
I share the court’s concern about finalizing the plan sooner rather than later. Governor Inslee has called a meeting of all four caucus leaders for Monday to create a public process to resolve these issues expeditiously.
Thank you again for letting me represent you in Olympia. It’s an honor and a privilege, though I feel much less privileged when the session runs into July. We finished our work Friday morning June 10th, passing a transportation spending bill and bills that allow the state to take out bonds based on the revenue. We also passed a small bill changing high school graduation requirements, the centerpiece of a disagreement in the Senate over initiative 1351 (class size reduction.) The graduation bill delays the imposition of the science standards for two years, allowing 2000 kids who met all the graduation requirements other than passing the biology end of course exam to graduate. It does NOT make a number of other changes I took issue with when they came up earlier in session.
In the last week of June we passed the 2015-17 operating budget, my particular responsibility in the Legislature. It’s reasonably straightforward and didn’t need to take us until the end of June to resolve, but the Republican Senate was unwilling to compromise on their all-gimmicks, no revenue strategy until the very end. In the last few days we came to an agreement that is a true compromise – the House conceded to the use of more financial shortcuts than we would have preferred and the Republican Senate agreed to close $350 million of tax loopholes. I didn’t get everything I wanted, and there are some elements of the deal that are distasteful. I think the same is true for the Senate Republicans. Had we gone past June 30th the state would have gone into a partial shutdown, including laying off doctors and nurses, shutting childcare facilities for 50,000 kids (which would cause 30,000 low-income single moms to lose their jobs or depend on sketchy care), and other bad things.
Chris Vance has a lot to say in this article on Crosscut that I agree with, but more that I don’t.
He is right that the Legislature didn’t address the compensation element and still needs to. I expect the court to have something to say on this soon.
However, he and Superintendent Dorn remain confused about the scope of class-size reduction requirements the court specifies. He seems to believe that the court is requiring class size reductions in grades 4-12. They are not.
The Legislature created many advisory groups to provide input for the decisions it would make on class size investments, compensation, etc. These groups, while often providing valuable advice, do not make decisions that become part of the definition of “basic education.” If they did we would be spending prodigious amounts of money indeed. The Legislature reserves for itself the definition of basic education, and, based on inputs from several advisory groups, made those changes in HB 2776 in 2010. This created requirements for lower class sizes in K-3, all-day Kindergarten, a transportation funding formula that was based on expected costs, and maintenance and supplies funding. The court Specifically insisted that the Legislature fund the definition in that bill. We have done so. Both House Democrat and Senate Republican budgets funded a rational phase in of these investments, and provide adequate funding in the 2017-19 biennium to finish the job before 2018. The final budget does as well.
I agree with Mr. Vance that compensation for basic education employees is a responsibility of the state, not of local districts, and that significant structural changes will need to be made to how funding goes out to address the problem. I proposed HB 2239 this year that created a plan to work this out, with an court-enforceable deadline of 2018. The Senate Republicans refused to take up the bill, and did not send their proposal over to the House. This might lead one to believe that they are choosing to ask the court to be more aggressive in forcing resolution.
The remaining problem is about $3.5 billion a biennium, not $5 billion a year. Much, but not all of this is already being paid by taxpayers and a large part of the problem could be resolved with a wrenching property tax change that would be close to revenue-neutral at the state level, but cause significant tax increases in urban areas and corresponding decreases in rural areas. Not surprisingly, this has been resisted by urban areas who suggest a more balanced way of addressing the problem using capital gains or some other mechanism in addition to some of the property tax changes I and others have proposed over the years.
When writing about the budget it’s important to share good news as well as bad. First the good: (it’s short) the revenue forecast picked up a little bit. The bad is that we face one of the most difficult budget cycles of my time in the Legislature, and perhaps worse than we’ve seen in many decades.
The budget is showing strains from the slow recovery from the recession, we are seeing a slew of court cases that require us to spend significant amounts of money, and we are going to have to make significant progress in meeting our constitutional responsibility to fund public education.
I’m pleased to report that we were able to add just over a billion dollars ($1,000,000,000) in new money to education funding in Washington, or about a 12% increase. This is a step towards meeting the obligation to amply provide for the education of all children residing within our borders the constitution calls for and the Supreme Court is requiring us to do in the McCleary decision. My initial proposal was for significantly more. We believe the final bill will be close to $4.5 billion, and we have 5 years to phase into a solution. This budget has 2 years in it, so 2/5 of the eventual problem would require a $1.7 billion increase. We didn’t get there, but what we did do is pretty significant. Continue reading “The Education Budget”
In the Senate Republican budget they transfer $166 million of the “Common School Construction Fund” into the operating budget. The Treasurer does not believe he has the constitutional authority to make this transfer and has said so publicly. The Senate Republicans are waving a letter from their staff attorney that says it’s all right. I’m not a lawyer, but the arguments from the Senate staff sounded like counting angels dancing on the head of pins.
The constitutional language in question is in Article IX, Section 3
There is hereby established the common school construction fund to be used exclusively for the purpose of financing the construction of facilities for the common schools. The sources of said fund shall be: (1) Those proceeds derived from the sale or appropriation of timber and other crops from school and state lands subsequent to June 30, 1965, other than those granted for specific purposes; (2) the interest accruing on said permanent common school fund from and after July 1, 1967, together with all rentals and other revenues derived therefrom and from lands and other property devoted to the permanent common school fund from and after July 1, 1967; and (3) such other sources as the legislature may direct. That portion of the common school construction fund derived from interest on the permanent common school fund may be used to retire such bonds as may be authorized by law for the purpose of financing the construction of facilities for the common schools.