Washington Governor Signs ‘Plan-for-a-Plan’ to Address Funding Lawsuit

By Daarel Burnette II — March 01, 2016 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, has signed a plan to address the Washington Supreme Court’s 2012 ruling that deemed the state’s funding formula unconstitutional, according to the Associated Press.

Inslee says the bill—which sets in motion a series of actions the legislature will take in order to fundamentally change its funding formula by the end of the 2017 session—will temporarily satisfy the court’s ruling. The court levied a $100,000-a-day fine on the legislature last summer to spur it into action.

“It does advance a significant recognition by the legislature that they need to act and have a full intention to act,” Inslee said during a Monday signing ceremony, according to the AP.

Opponents of the legislation, which include Randy Dorn, the state’s superintendent, criticized it as a “punt” and said it leaves schools picking up the state’s costs in the interim. In the meantime, the funds are being funneled into a special account “for the benefit of basic education” until the state succeeds in addressing the issues the court raised, according to the Seattle Times.

“I don’t think the court will buy it,” said Dorn, a Democrat, in a recent interview with Education Week. “When the court fined the state $100,000 a day, the legislature said, ‘No big deal, we’ll let the fine roll up. No harm, no foul.’ The legislature gave the court the back of the hand two years ago, and they just gave another hand signal to the court.”

State high courts in Washington and Kansas are seemingly fed up with their legislatures’ lackluster efforts to address their rulings in school funding cases. Kansas’ Supreme Court ruled last month that if the state doesn’t provide millions more dollars to its districts by July 1, the court will effectively shut the state’s public school system down. Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback said late last week that he’s working to address the ruling.

In Washington, the state’s supreme court ruled in its 2012 McCleary v. State of Washington decision that the state’s funding formula didn’t pass muster under the Washington constitution and leaves local taxpayers picking up education costs through their local levies that the state should pay for.

The court gave lawmakers until 2018 to address its ruling. But last year, the court said lawmakers weren’t moving fast enough and held the legislature in contempt, imposing the $100,000-a-day fine until it meets the judges’ orders. Observers say the fines have amounted to $15 million so far.

The legislature to date has addressed several of the court’s requests, including reducing the state’s average class size and expanding all-day kindergarten.

But the state has not addressed teacher pay, a contentious and expensive part of the court’s order. Last year, thousands of Seattle teachers staged a strike partly over teacher pay, effectively shutting down the school system for five days. Educators now say a teacher shortage, which they partly blame on low pay, has left hundreds of classrooms across the Evergreen State with unqualified teachers.

While bills have been proposed and passed this session to address the teacher shortage, legislators can’t agree on how to increase teacher pay without raising taxes.

“The next step before us is arguably the most complex, and I’m confident the legislature is up to the task,” Inslee said Monday.

In the meantime, the legislature earlier this session passed a bill that would allow local districts to raise their levies this year to cover education costs. But Dorn, the state’s superintendent, said that action may not be legal and has discussed suing the state for improper use of local levies.

The plan Inslee signed Monday establishes a task force to find the money from state coffers needed to replace local tax levy money and requires legislators during next year’s session to approve a plan. It also asks the task force to clarify how local levies are being used, and ensure that no more legislation is needed to keep the state’s average class sizes low and the state’s all-day kindergarten in place.

Dorn earlier this session skipped Inslee’s State of the State Address, where the governor discussed at length what’s been referred to as a “plan-for-a-plan.” On the chair in the Capitol chamber usually reserved for the state superintendent, Dorn left a sticky note that read, “‘Reserved for kids and students.”

“I still believe that we don’t have a strong enough internal force to force the legislature to do its job, but I think it’s coming to a head that our state may have to look at its whole tax system in the 21st century,” Dorn said. “We have one of the least-fair systems in the nation. This is the Armageddon. It’s a culminating moment of McCleary.”

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