Officials agree there’s more to be done on funding education

By Katie Gillespie, Columbian Education Reporter

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Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver

Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver.

Wednesday’s Washington Supreme Court ruling drew mixed reactions from local education leaders, though the theme of each was consistent: There’s still work to be done to fully fund public education.

The Washington Supreme Court ruled that while lawmakers’ solution to the 2012 McCleary decision — which ruled the state was failing in its constitutional obligation to fully fund education — will check the boxes for constitutional compliance, they failed to meet the established deadline of Sept. 1, 2018. Teacher salary allocations will not be fully funded until the 2019-2020 school year, meaning the budget falls about $1 billion short of constitutional compliance.

Until the Legislature passes legislation that funds teacher salaries by that date, it remains in contempt of court, facing $100,000 fines daily.

“Although the Legislature made considerable progress this last session, there is unfinished business that must be addressed immediately,” said Steve Webb, Vancouver Public Schools superintendent. Webb also called for additional funding for special education classrooms and a more equitable local levy funding system.

Rick Wilson, executive director of the Vancouver Education Association, was disappointed that the Supreme Court did not rule against the teacher salary schedule outlined in McCleary. A Washington Association of School Administrators analysis suggests that districts with more experienced teachers than the state average could lose funding.

“I’m still disappointed that the court didn’t look at that and say this isn’t fair to our members,” Wilson said.

But Vancouver Republican Rep. Paul Harris, the ranking minority member of the House Education Committee, said Wednesday’s ruling proves the state is on the right path toward fully funding education. He cited the Supreme Court’s ruling that the budget funds transportation, categorical programs and class size reductions for kindergarten through third-grade classrooms as a victory.

“It took everything off the table except for the implementation and timing,” he said.

Between the ample cost of implementing the funding model in 2018 and next year’s shortened, 60-day session, Harris expects a challenging spring.

“I haven’t a clue where we’re going to shake out on this, but I welcome the discussion,” he said.

Rep. Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, meanwhile, said the decision reflects the Supreme Court’s frustration that it required three special sessions to approve a school spending bill.

“It’s not a surprise to me the court would say the plan was fine but the timeline wasn’t,” Stonier said.

Last year’s session extended until the end of June, with the Legislature narrowly avoiding a government shutdown. That may have been enough to keep government offices open, Stonier said, but it means the school funding conversation will continue.

“It certainly put us in a position where the court is saying you have to fix this mess,” Stonier said.