Reactions to yesterday’s state Supreme Court school funding hearing. Court still trying to discover its role in forcing compliance.

Reporters, pundits and politicians continue to speculate on what may result from yesterday’s state Supreme Court hearing on the McCleary school funding lawsuit. If you want to watch it in full, it’s available on TVW

The Seattle Times reports on the reactions of a pair of legislators who have been closely involved in the education funding debates.

“I thought the justices were a little more restrained than what they had been in … the original contempt sanctions hearing,” said state Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, who watched the hearing after it happened, adding later: “There was nothing that indicates to me that they’re going to dramatically up the fine.”

…Frockt and Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, both said the court’s questions indicated that justices might be thinking about setting a hard deadline for the Legislature to finish its plan. That deadline could possibly come with a set of punishments that the court could make if lawmakers and Inslee haven’t finished the job by then.

Magendanz, a member of the education-funding task force created by the Legislature, said he’d find that approach helpful.

“We need to have political cover, not just from the courts but from our own constituents … that a McCleary solution is job [number] one next year,” said Magendanz, who is currently running for state Senate.

Some reactions preceded the hearing.

Speaking outside the Temple of Justice Wednesday morning, GOP Rep. Matt Manweller of Ellensburg railed against the court’s contempt actions.

Manweller’s impression of the hearing, he said later, was that justices were struggling to figure out how to be effective.

“What I saw was a court that has realized it has backed itself into a corner and doesn’t know how to get out of it,” said Manweller…

The Seattle Times has published a helpful timeline of key events in the case.

The NW News Network neatly frames the court’s threshold decision in the headline “‘purge contempt’ or double down on sanctions.” 

Most of the coverage captures what may be the enduring and contrasting metaphors used by the attorneys. Depending on where you stand it’s a marathon (state’s position) in which state government has come a long way and has just a bit to go, or it’s a merry-go-round (plaintiffs’ position) going around in circles giving the semblance of progress but in fact going nowhere.

From the Everett Herald

In the past four years, the state put billions of additional dollars into schools to pay for supplies, transportation, all-day kindergarten and smaller class sizes in elementary grades. The last remaining challenge, Copsey said, is figuring out how much is needed to cover teacher salaries and where the money will come from.

The story also highlights the dilemma the court faces: How to make sanctions work.

…Chief Justice Barbara Madsen questioned the value of the court warning lawmakers of graver consequences in the future if they come up empty-handed versus waiting to see what happens and acting.

A companion story in the Herald addressed the compensation issue

Paying employee salaries, the largest chunk of which is for classroom teachers, is the last big-ticket item they are wrangling over. Right now, a bipartisan task force of House and Senate members is gathering data on how much money the state is spending on salaries and how much more it will need to spend to meet its paramount duty.

This is where the court’s question on “competitive market-rate” salaries comes in. It’s not enough for the state to give districts more money for salaries. It needs to examine the statewide pay scale, equalize teacher pay and consider the best means of recruiting and retaining instructors whether they work in Everett, Seattle, Walla Walla or Kettle Falls.

It’s a significant challenge, complicated by the lack of clear comparables.

Teachers don’t have an immediate corollary in the private sector so consultants said they looked for professions in which job training and duties are generally similar.

Some lawmakers pushed back at their choices of comparing elementary teachers with registered nurses and secondary school instructors with accountants and auditors.

“I don’t on the face of it see a lot of similarities,” said Sen. John Braun, R-Centralia, who pointed out his wife is a nurse.

As we’ve written earlier, if this were easy, the state wouldn’t be in court now.

See also coverage in The News Tribune, the Columbian, and Spokesman-Review.

A decision is expected soon. But that doesn’t mean one will be rendered soon.