The state Supreme Court has ruled that the 2017 Legislature has largely complied with all the critical elements of it McCleary school funding mandate, but missed a compliance deadline. That missed deadline for full-funding of teacher salaries led the court to order a $1 billion education spending bump this year. We noted last November,
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.
Although the governor proposed dipping into reserves and backfilling with a new carbon tax, there’s no clear legislative consensus on how to address the issue.
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.
The Seattle Times reports on other issues associated with salary funding
…the new funding plan ties teacher pay to regional housing values, which lawmakers hope will help districts offer competitive wages, and Bethel’s housing values are lower than those in Franklin Pierce and Tacoma.
At first blush, you might expect districts to cheer an infusion of cash to pay their teachers. But the new funding formula — designed to lower local reliance on property taxes to pay for market wages — has created anxiety among district leaders worried about whether they’ll be able to compete with their neighbors for high-quality teachers…
The four-year spending plan adds about $5.6 billion to public schools — but comes with many new strings attached.
The changes include scrapping the statewide salary schedule that virtually all school districts have used to set base pay for their teachers. Lawmakers also set a cap on teacher salaries and no longer will funnel more money into schools with more experienced and educated teachers.
All that change has left districts with a lot of questions, including how to give educators raises — and for what — and why neighboring districts get such different amounts of money from the state for salaries.
And, as the Seattle Times reports, the questions become more complicated in the context of the court’s desire for accelerated funding.
The dizzying list of changes doesn’t go into effect until fall. But as lawmakers meet for a short session this year, they also will debate exactly how — or even whether — to spend an additional $1 billion on salaries for teachers and other school staff.
Legislative leaders do not appear to be in a rush to boost spending this year.
Some lawmakers already have suggested they don’t think it’s appropriate to do what the justices want.
“If you just dump $900 million into the system without making other adjustments … that’s not an easy thing for (districts) to manage,” Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, said at a Jan. 4 news conference.
Democrats, including House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, have shared similar concerns. Speaking to reporters this month, Sullivan suggested districts need more time to negotiate salaries — “in a way that’s responsible,” he said — before $1 billion arrives in their coffers.
The Washington Research Council also takes a look at how school funding may change this year. The WRC reiterates that, beyond the deadline issue, the court is comfortable with the Legislature’s plan.
Beyond that, “At this point, the court is willing to allow the State’s program to operate and let experience be the judge of whether it proves adequate.” Not everyone is convinced; districts have raised a number of issues with the legislation that they think should be fixed, and several bills have been introduced this session to address them. (None have passed yet.)
The WRC mentions proposals to address staff mix, special education and regionalization. And concludes,
The Legislature may decide to make changes to address these issues this session, or it may decide to follow the Court’s lead and “allow the State’s program to operate and let experience be the judge of whether it proves adequate.”
We’ll know soon.