The Joint Select Committee on Article IX Litigation, charged with reporting to the Supreme Court on the Legislature’s progress towards fully funding basic education in compliance with the court’s McCleary v State decision, approved its final report today on a unanimous vote.
“When we passed the final budget in late June, I was asked how I thought we might report to the court on education funding,” said Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, co-chair of the committee. “I stated at the time that it was my goal not to downplay the positives or sugarcoat the negatives. I believe this report acknowledges the legitimate progress that we made in some areas – namely, transportation, all day kindergarten, and the transitional bilingual program.”
At the same time and for the first time, the report formally acknowledges just how much is left to do under current law targets for funding things like lower class sizes and the “nuts and bolts” of materials, supplies and operating costs (MSOC). For example, under current law the Legislature is supposed to provide an additional $857 million in MSOC funding to local districts by the 2015-16 school year. This is the core of what McCleary was about – that local districts are being forced to pay for the basic necessities of running our schools because the state wasn’t providing the necessary funding. The total enhancement in basic education, $982 million, was undeniably a positive. Yet, the Legislature has more than 85 percent of that total to fund in the next budget in this one basic education category (MSOC) alone.
“That MSOC obligation does not include current law targets in class size reduction – an additional $1 billion by 2018 – and all-day kindergarten – an additional $316 million by 2018 – as well as other parts of the basic education program,” said Frockt. “Some estimates put the necessary investment in the next budget cycle, 2015-17, as more than double what we invested in basic education this budget year, a year that saw us go into two special sessions to get an agreement. Meanwhile, we’re seeing issues crop up relating to class size reduction in local districts.”
The report also acknowledges that the 2013-15 budget, even while capturing the natural growth of a recovering economy, still relied on $521 million in fund transfers, revenue redirection and cuts, $295 million in savings from yet again suspending the voter-approved I-732 cost of living adjustments for teachers and eliminating the $204 million Opportunity Pathways/School Construction statutory related transfer requirement and backfilling that transfer with state debt. At the same time, the Legislature failed to extend even a portion of the existing B&O surcharge or close low-hanging fruit on the tax loophole side.
The financial challenge faced by the Legislature is historic and yet as State Education Board Chair Mary Jean Ryan indicated in a letter to the committee a few weeks ago – ‘it is doubtful that additional investments of the magnitude required to ensure full Constitutional compliance in 2018 can be sustained through a budget approach that relies heavily on transfers from the Capital budget, a collection of one-time savings, and a seemingly on-going policy of annually exempting the requirement of Initiative 732 to provide cost-of-living adjustments to educators in our State.’
“I support continued education reforms to improve outcomes for our kids,” said Frockt. “I worked across party lines this year to improve many of the education reform bills that were introduced this year. However, I also believe that the education reforms passed in 2009 and 2010 – all day kindergarten and class size reduction in particular – also contain great potential to improve student outcomes if they are fully funded. Clearly, we have a lot of work left to do on this historic challenge.”