Gov. Jay Inslee’s education budget proposal falls far short of what is needed to comply with the orders issued by the Supreme Court in McCleary v Washington. If adopted, it would move this state one step closer to a constitutional crisis.
This issue is not complicated: Over and over again our courts have ruled that relying on levies to fund a major portion of our education system is unconstitutional. The Governor’s proposal does not address that central fact. As the Court wrote: “If the State’s funding formulas provide only a portion of what it actually costs a school to pay its teachers, get kids to school, and keep the lights on, then the legislature cannot maintain that it is fully funding basic education through its funding formulas. (McCleary v State of Washington, p. 60)
“The fact that local levy funds have been at least in part supporting the basic education program is inescapable….. Reliance on levy funding to finance basic education was unconstitutional 30 years ago… and it is unconstitutional now.” (Ibid., p. 68)
In September, the Supreme Court held the state in contempt for not producing a plan that, by 2018, would fully fund basic education without the use of local levies. The Court, however, gave the state one last chance – the 2015 legislative session – to comply without imposing sanctions.
In response, Gov. Inslee proposes to increase funding for a long list of educational programs that I support. He also proposes to fully fund the elements contained in Substitute House Bill 2776:
• All-day kindergarten
• Class size reduction in grades K-3
• Student transportation
• Full funding of Materials, Supplies, and Operating Costs
These are positive enhancements, but HB 2776 was just the first step towards full state funding of education. Funding the elements of 2776 alone does not satisfy our obligation under the constitution. The Governor offers no plan on how he intends to fund reduced class sizes in grades 4-12, required as part of the prototypical school model envisioned by SHB 2261, and by Initiative 1351. Nor does the Governor address state funding of the compensation of education staff that levies currently fund.
It is important to remember that the court was clear in identifying the state’s obligation. That consists of an education system that does not rely on local levy funds, and which is consistent with the prototypical school model envisioned in SHB 2261. The model is derived from earlier “evidenced-based” research on funding adequacy, and includes class size levels virtually identical to those included in Initiative 1351. As the Court wrote: “The prototypical school model for Washington was originally set forth in the Picus and Odden report, which the Basic Education Finance Task Force relied on in making its recommendations to the legislature. The task force’s recommendations in turn provided the framework for the funding model under ESHB 2261.” (McCleary v. Washington, p. 72)
In short, the Governor’s proposal is far short of the complete plan the Court has ordered, and will, in my opinion, lead to sanctions by the Supreme Court if adopted.
Two weeks ago I sent the Governor a detailed letter expressing my view on what would be the minimum amount of new funding needed in the next budget to make sufficient progress towards full state funding. I am disappointed that the Governor has not chosen to fund that which the Court has stated is required.
In writing the budget I hope the Legislature will take its constitutional obligation seriously. If it does not, I believe the Supreme Court will do what is necessary on behalf of students, as unprecedented and unpleasant as that may be.
Superintendant of Public Instruction