Education – not just McCleary funding – on 2018 legislative agenda. How much gets done in election-year session?

When the state Supreme Court handed the state an ‘incomplete” on meeting its McCleary funding obligations, it sought about a billion-dollar boost in the 2018 budget. The ruling points out, 

The State acknowledged in oral argument that funding half the salary increases for the 2018-19 would cost about $1 billion, and that this amount constitutes the difference between what is appropriated for the 2018-19 school year and what must be appropriated for the 2019-20 school year (about $2 billion) to provide full funding of the increases. And plaintiffs acknowledged at argument that the State’s current estimates align, at least on the low end, with the $2.1 to 2.7 billion per year estimated in the JTFEF report. Thus, by all relevant estimates, it appears EHB 2242 and the 2017-19 budget fall short by about a billion dollars in fully funding the salary increases by the 2018-19 school year.

The ruling injects a tough budget dimension in a short election year session. And some lawmakers may be reluctant to attempt after long months of wrangling over a $43.7 billion biennial budget that contains a 13.7 percent increase over the previous biennium. A billion dollars is, as they say, not nothing. The usual considerations apply: Revenue estimates are up, some of the new salary spending could be obtained by reducing expenditures elsewhere, and there are taxes to be raised. But none of it’s easy, despite the Seattle Times editorial observation that another billion is 

… not out of reach for a state with a two-year budget of $43.7 billion.

The Spokesman-Review editorial board also reacts to the call for a funding boost.

Now the Legislature must come up with the rest of the money needed, and, as experience tells us, it’s not a sure thing that it will.

We’ve never been comfortable with the court’s oversight of schools, because of the danger of usurping the Legislature’s powers. But it’s undeniable that lawmakers have needed continual prodding. Now they need to follow through during the 2018 session.

Maybe. Finding the money was a challenge last session. During the short session, which is often about clean-up and tweaks in a supplemental budget, the challenge is greater.

And, as the Seattle Times editorial board writes, there are other education reforms to consider. The editorial identifies six: graduation rates, closing the achievement gap, classroom construction, early learning, college funding, and “unintended consequences” including special education funding. On each of these, there’s room for debate and discussion.

We’ve written previously about the importance of improving the graduation rate and maintaining graduation standards, shared our concerns with lingering achievement gaps, and expressed support for targeted early learning programs.

As lawmakers consider education, funding should not be their only concern. Fortunately, it hasn’t been in the past. And we should all be realistic about how much can be accomplished in the 2018 session.