Building an Economy that Works for Everyone

“Something structural will need to happen”: A McCleary update

New education funding comes from a patchwork of sources - that will have to change, says the WA Supreme Court

New education funding is coming from a patchwork of different sources – that will have to change if the state is serious about meeting the state Supreme Court’s mandate from McCleary vs. Washington. [Photo: bluesunflower via Flickr Creative Commons]

As students and teachers settle into the school year, they’re starting to see some benefits from the legislative “down payment” on the state Supreme Court mandate (McCleary vs. Washington) that Washington’s K-12 schools be fully funded by 2018. The question remains: where will they find the rest of the money?

For the 2013-2015 biennium, lawmakers put together just under $1 billion in new spending, spread over key areas like expanding full-day kindergarten, transportation, books, supplies, bilingual education and reducing the size of elementary school classrooms. The revenue comes from a patchwork of sources including federal money, one-time adjustments to state accounts, and changes to some social services. It also continues the suspension of previously-passed voter initiatives that would have ensured cost-of-living adjustments for teachers.

That’s a beginning – but perhaps not a very promising one. Legislators must come up with $4 billion in new education spending by 2018. Lawmakers submitted their first plan to do that to the Supreme Court in September – but Chief Justice Barbara Madsen responded that it wasn’t specific enough. She noted, “…[it] must set out the State’s plan in sufficient detail to allow progress to be measured according to periodic benchmarks between now and 2018.”

The problem is that the state’s current mix of funding isn’t “regular and dependable”, as the court mandated. Mary Jean Ryan, acting chairwoman of the state Board of Education, summed it up this way: “It seems clear that something structural will need to happen before the Legislature can support a fully funded program of basic education and sustain it through good economic times and bad.”

By Elissa Goss, EOI intern

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