Committee OKs school spending report for state court

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OLYMPIA — A committee overseeing progress on paying the full cost of basic education for kids in public school voted unanimously Tuesday to approve a draft of its latest progress report to the state Supreme Court.

In its decision on a lawsuit brought by a coalition of school districts, parents and education groups — known as the McCleary case for the family named in the suit — the high court ruled in January 2012 that the state is not meeting its constitutional obligation concerning education funding. In the ruling, the Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to make yearly progress reports on its efforts. Those reports are then critiqued by the group that brought the lawsuit, and by the Supreme Court.

This year, the Legislature allocated about $1 billion more for basic education for the current two-year budget cycle. Lawmakers estimate they need to find a total of between $3.5 billion to $4.5 billion more over the coming years to fully pay for basic education.

"The down payment phase is over and now we've got to get on to the real funding task," said Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, co-chairman of the committee. "We've got a long way to go."

The 23-page report approved by the Joint Select Committee on Article IX Litigation, comprised of state lawmakers, focused on how the Legislature invested that $1 billion in education, to help struggling students, to pay for their transportation, to buy classroom supplies, to add 80 hours to the high school year, to reduce class sizes in the younger grades, and to get more kids into all-day kindergarten.

"I believe that shows significant progress toward meeting our obligation, but it will be up to the court to determine that," said fellow co-chairman Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia.