You might have read the AP story about legislative pushback coming from both sides of the aisle on the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision. Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner has a bill that would shrink the court from nine members to five. Part of it is a response to what he sees as judicial overreach, but he also said it would save money.
During AP’s Legislative Preview earlier in January I wondered if state Sen. Mark Schoesler of Ritzville was chafing at the McCleary decision follow-up when he said, “If money were the key to education we’d all long for our kids to be in the Washington, DC schools.” If we were not in the midst of a period in which the court had demanded the Legislature spend more on schools, it would be just another political statement. Coming at this time, however, it seemed like it might be more than partisan posturing.
Jim Hargrove, a Democratic state senator, is also on the record saying he sees “separation-of-power problems” with the court’s approach.
Doug Cloud, who was one of the Republican candidates to replace Jan Angel in the House, said he sees problems with the court’s actions.
If legislators, almost all of whom say they will allocate more money to education regardless, decide to challenge the court’s authority, it could mark a precedential moment in Washington history.
Meanwhile, Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing spending $200 million more from this budget on education, including $74 million that would give teachers a 1.3 percent raise. It would be the first cost-of-living raise since 2008, despite the fact that voters approved annual COLAs in 2000. The governor also cited not just the decision, but the court’s statement that the Legislature was not moving fast enough to get to full funding by 2018.
The governor’s press release follows:
Gov. Jay Inslee proposes plan to speed up K-12 funding
OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee today announced a proposal to boost school spending by $200 million to keep the state on track for meeting its court-mandated basic education obligations.
The state Supreme Court, in McCleary v. State of Washington, has ruled repeatedly that the state is not meeting its constitutional obligation to adequately fund basic education. In 2009 and 2010, the Legislature made statutory commitments to change how education is funded and direct billions of dollars in strategic new education investments over the next six years.
But in an order earlier this month, the court said the state was not moving fast enough to meet its own funding timelines and called for “immediate, concrete action … not simply promises.”
Inslee originally proposed a “hold steady” 2014 supplemental budget that made only modest increases to the 2013–15 budget. But he said the new court order had forced him to revise that approach.
“Our constitution makes clear that education is this state’s paramount duty. And in recent years the Legislature has come together in a bipartisan fashion to pass promising school reforms,” said Inslee. “What’s missing is action, follow through, making good on our commitment. What’s missing is funding. Today I am presenting a plan that puts us on the path to meet our moral obligation to our children and our legal obligation to our constitution.”
The governor proposes $200 million in additional funding in the 2013–15 budget to meet two key needs called out in the Supreme Court ruling:
· Ensuring classrooms are properly equipped with necessary materials, supplies, books and curricula
· Restoring voter-mandated teacher cost-of-living salary increases
Inslee noted that the state has made significant strides in recent years by adopting more rigorous instructional standards in English, math and science. But he said the state has not done enough to support schools and educators so their students can achieve those standards. Under his proposal, the state would increase funding for basic materials, supplies and operating costs by $130 million, starting in the 2014–15 school year.
Inslee also stressed the state has not been doing its part to make sure teachers are adequately paid, and the Supreme Court pointed this out as well. Voters in 2000 overwhelmingly approved Initiative 732, which requires the state to fund annual teacher COLAs. But the state has not provided any funding since 2008. The governor proposes a 1.3 percent COLA for the 2014–15 school year, which would cost the state $74 million.
“If we want to attract and retain the best and brightest teachers for our children, we have to provide competitive salaries,” Inslee said.
As he did last year, Inslee proposes closing tax breaks to provide ongoing funding for the basic education investments. His plan calls for closing or amending seven current tax breaks, which would generate $200 million over the remainder of the current biennium and $414 million during the 2015–17 biennium.
“There may have been a time and place for each of these tax breaks,” Inslee said, “but today they simply are not as high a priority as educating our children. I welcome further conversation with legislators about how to move forward.”
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