Most public school students in Snohomish County will be back in the classroom by mid-week, having fortunately avoided the drama in districts elsewhere in the state, including South Whidbey, Seattle and Pasco, whose teachers either are on strike or are still negotiating contracts.
Still enjoying the last days of summer are state lawmakers, most of whom greeted last month’s $100,000-a-day fine from the state Supreme Court for failing to present a fleshed-out education funding plan either with a well-what-are-ya-gonna-do? shrug or a foot-stamping fit of pique against the justices.
Rather than take seriously the court’s admonition that the Legislature, while making some progress, had managed more of a promise than an actual plan to amply fund K-12 education, several Republican senators insisted the court was legislating from the bench.
A letter written by Sen. Michael Baumgartner, R-Spokane, and signed by 17 other Republicans and one Democrat, insisted that the court was telling the Legislature how to write a budget and urged the senators’ colleagues to “explore the range of political, legal and constitutional responses we now have at our disposal.”
Their fellow lawmakers answered with more shrugs.
The funding issues might have been solved more quickly had the state’s high court taken up the budget pen, but it has left the political and budget issues to the Legislature. In fact, a footnote in the court’s Aug. 13 decision makes that very case, specific to what legislators ought to do about levy reform. The court has repeatedly said — and the Legislature has acknowledged — that local school levies have been unconstitutionally used to make up the gap between what teachers are paid and what the state provides for their compensation. That over-reliance on local levies has resulted in inequities among school districts.
“We offer no opinion on whether full state funding of basic education salaries must be accompanied by levy reform, but how the state achieves full state funding is up to the Legislature,” the court wrote. In other words: Tell us how you’re going to fix this.
Gov. Jay Inslee met with legislative leaders last month to discuss the next steps. Rather than call lawmakers back immediately, the governor is waiting to see some progress on a funding plan that might meet with the court’s approval before calling lawmakers into a special session or waiting for the next regular session in January.
One bit of action may be reason for hope. The Senate’s Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee has scheduled a series of meetings in communities throughout the state to take public comment on how to proceed. The committee is scheduled to meet at 5 p.m. Oct. 6, at the Everett School District’s offices, 3900 Broadway, the second stop on a seven-city tour that begins Sept. 30 in Vancouver and ends Oct. 27 in Yakima.
Students, parents and taxpayers ought take advantage of this opportunity to tell lawmakers how to fix this. It’s the court’s job to require lawmakers to adopt a plan to amply fund education, not to determine how.
That’s a job for your legislators and you.