Kids get a promise, not a plan

When given a test, students often are asked not just to answer the question but to write down how they arrived at their answer: Show your work, they’re told.

In weighing in on how well the Legislature’s recently completed session is meeting the goal of fulfilling the state’s paramount duty to amply fund education, the state Supreme Court was unanimous in repeating its order in the long-running McCleary decision: Show your work.

“This court’s order requires the State explain not just what it expects to achieve by 2018 … but to fully explain how it will achieve the required goals. …,” the justices said.

While the persuasive impact of the court’s sanction — fining the state $100,000 a day until it can show that work — can be debated, it’s clear the court is not impressed with the Legislature’s progress. The state, under the mandate of the 2010 McCleary decision, has been required to increase K-12 education funding to reduce class sizes and address a system of teacher compensation that has relied too heavily and inequitably on local school district levies.

Data from the Washington Association of School Administrators show that during the 1987-88 school year, the state paid an average of 99 percent of each teacher’s salary. By the 2012-13 school year that statewide rate had decreased to 77 percent. For Everett and Monroe school districts about 85 cents of every levy dollar in 2013-14 went to salaries and benefits for teachers, administrators and support staff to make up what the state wasn’t paying.

That’s not to say there was no progress. The court recognized that the recent session resulted in funding that provides for student transportation, meets spending goals for classroom materials and supplies, meets goals for establishing all-day kindergarten in all schools by the fall of 2016, and appropriated $350 million for K-3 class size reductions.

Even so, the court found that the class-size goals for K-3 won’t be met by 2018, that the costs for building new classrooms to meet those goals were not addressed, and that the $350 million appropriation, by the Legislature’s own estimate by its Joint Task Force on Education Funding, falls $313 million short this biennium and will require $1.15 billion for the 2017-18 biennium.

There’s a promise to make good on the goal, the court said, but no plan. The Legislature, in its report to the court, detailed proposed legislation on salaries and levy reform, but nothing was passed into law and it only identified areas of discussion. The court must be shown, it said, how the Legislature will reform the state’s levy system and pay its teachers and other school employees, including a schedule of how a plan will be phased-in and its benchmarks for compliance.

The court urged Gov. Jay Inslee to call the Legislature back into session to begin work on that plan. And Inslee is scheduled to meet with key legislators on Monday regarding the court’s order.

Following a record 176-day session, we understand lawmakers won’t be eager to return to work. But here are two considerations. With the fine at $100,000 a day, the state will have to set aside $14 million or more if it waits until the scheduled start of the 2016 session. And readers will recall that an independent salary commission approved an 11 percent pay raise for lawmakers that will take effect next year.

With sincere appreciation for what the Legislature did accomplish this year, not just in education funding, but in transportation and other areas, work was left undone.

Lawmakers might as well start earning that raise.

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