Washington High Court Tells Lawmakers: Show Us The Money

By Daarel Burnette II — November 16, 2017 2 min read
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Washington’s supreme court on Wednesday agreed that the state’s legislature has come up with an adequate way to boost teacher pay—as the state’s court demanded it do five years ago—but that the money won’t arrive in teachers’ pockets soon enough.

The state’s legislature has been pushing the court’s patience for years since the court’s 2012 McCleary v. Washington ruling that K-12 funding formula was inadequate. It appears the court’s justices are just about fed up with waiting for a new formula to actually go into effect.

The legislature last year came up with a new statewide property tax in order to boost the base salaries of the state’s public school teachers as a way to satisfy the McCleary ruling. But the $7.3 billion needed to pay for that increase in salaries won’t reach teachers’ pockets until the 2019-20 school year—a year after the court’s deadline.

That timing doesn’t satisfy the justices which has already fined the state more than $82 million for missing its many deadlines.

“The program of basic education cannot be said to be fully implemented by Sept. 1, 2018, when it puts off full funding of basic education salaries until the 2019-20 school year,” the court wrote in its Nov. 15 ruling. “If compliance by 2019-20 is close enough, why not 2020-21 or the following year?”

Legislators admit that they will miss the 2018 deadline but say it takes time to set up a new formula, collect the money, and then distribute that money to schools.

“The last thing I want to see is this thing jammed into place so quickly that it doesn’t work or creates more problems than it fixes,” said Democratic House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan in response to the latest ruling, echoing a similar argument the state’s attorney general made in court.

The court didn’t buy it.

“The court’s constitutional responsibility is to the school children of this state,” the court wrote. “We cannot erode that consitutional right by saying that the state is now ‘close enough’ to constitutional.”

The court said by the start of the 2018-19 school year, teachers should see their salaries rise. And, knowing legislators’ propensity to drag their feet into special sessions, the court said it needs to see a report by April 9 detailing the plan or else it will ramp up the sanctions already imposed.

Speaking of, whatever happened to that $100,000 the legislature was supposed to be fined for every day it is in session and doesn’t come up with a plan?

Turns out the legislature never set it aside, giving it instead to districts to spend.

That especially upset the nine-member elected supreme court, which said that it “expects its directives to be obeyed.”

“And since the court has ordered the payment of sanctions into a dedicated account, the state may not expend the funds in that account without the court’s authorization, even if up to this point the state has kept only an accounting of the accumulating sanctions rather than actually establishing an account,” the court said.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.