The Legislative task force charged with updating the state Supreme Court on progress in meeting the court’s education funding mandate adopted its 2016 report Wednesday. Here’s their conclusion:
…the underlying 2015-17 biennial budget fully funds the statutorily specified enhancements required by SHB 2776 by the respective due dates, with the remaining K-3 class size reduction implement due in the 2017-18 school year accounted for in the state′s four-year balanced budget process.
Beyond this, the Legislature in the 2016 supplemental budget provided additional funding outside of the basic education program … including construction funding with an emphasis on K-3 class size reduction, funding for teacher preparation, recruitment, and retention, and funding for reducing the educational opportunity gap and supporting homeless students.
Most importantly, the 2016 Legislature enacted E2SSB 6195, which contains the plan requested by this Court. [We wrote about that here.]
In essence, they say they’ve done what the court expected of them. And yet they clearly acknowledge the work ahead.
“This report reflects what we didn’t do,” said Sen. Christine Rolfes, D-Bainbridge Island, and a member of the Joint Select Committee on Article IX Litigation.
“We wanted to show the court that we were working toward solutions, even in those cases where we didn’t come up with solutions,” Rolfes added, before the committee unanimously approved the report.
“We all wanted to get further than we had,” said Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, adding later: “Obviously we still have a big step to go.”
The Legislature has been in contempt of court since 2014 for not providing the Court a plan for fully funding education. In August 2015, the Court started fining the Legislature for the lack of a plan. According to the 2016 report, those fines will total $27.9 million on May 18. As the report notes, although the 2016 supplemental budget did not include an appropriation to pay the fines, the amount could easily be covered by reserves.
In the Spokesman-Review, Jim Camden writes that some task force members think that the failure to budget for the fines weakens the Legislature’s position. But…
The budget does leave more than $700 million in its main reserve accounts, Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, said. He wouldn’t predict whether that would satisfy the court but said he was more concerned with solving the problems with public schools, which he believes the Legislature is doing, than predicting how the court will react to the report.
We’ll find out soon enough. The Attorney General and the McCleary plaintiffs will file briefs to the court addressing the contempt citation and sanctions by June 17.