The state Supreme Court last week handed out mostly passing grades to lawmakers — but also one significant incomplete.
In assessing the Legislature’s plan to reconfigure funding for K-12 public schools, justices determined that lawmakers have largely met the demands spelled out in the 2012 McCleary v. Washington ruling. Notably, however, they also said that waiting until 2019 to fully fund salaries for teachers and staff will not meet the deadline of Sept. 1, 2018.
Most observers say that another $1 billion in funding must be approved during next year’s legislative session to meet the mandate. Until lawmakers meet the “paramount duty” spelled out in the state constitution, the court will retain jurisdiction and leave in place a $100,000-a-day fine that now amounts to more than $80 million.
In court, lawyers for the state argued that implementing funding increases and a vast change to the state’s property-tax system requires that the deadline be pushed to 2019. That, however, merely reflects a failure on the part of lawmakers, who long were derelict in their duty to meet the McCleary mandate. As the justices stated: “The need to act ‘all of a sudden’ is of the Legislature’s own doing, and if its hands are tied, it tied them.”
Since the 2012 McCleary ruling, lawmakers have incrementally provided billions of dollars to lower class sizes, offer full-day kindergarten, increase transportation, and cover the costs of school supplies. Those were meaningful successes, but they left the heavy lifting — salaries — for this year. When they finally broached the issue, it required three overtime sessions before a budget was passed just in time to avoid a partial shutdown of state services.