State Supreme Court gives lawmakers more time to address school funding

The state Supreme Court yesterday told the Legislature to keep working. The Seattle Times reports

In an order dated Thursday and signed by Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, the court acknowledged that because “there has not been final action on either the budget or McCleary-related bills, the court’s consideration of contempt sanctions” are delayed for now.

Finally, a decision related to school funding that a divided Legislature could celebrate. The Attorney General had requested the extension earlier this week, noting that budgets passed by both the House and Senate provided substantial increases in funding for basic education.

The Associated Press reports negotiators are making progress

Lawmakers from both the Senate and the House met together during a Thursday afternoon House Appropriations Committee meeting to discuss their competing proposals and how they might work together to reach a compromise.

Most of the discussion focused on how to end the state’s reliance on local school levies to pay part of the cost of basic education and whether changes in the state tax system and the way teachers are paid would be necessary to reach that goal.

Budget leaders from both parties are quoted as saying the discussions went well. John Stang, writing in Crosscut, summarizes the challenges lawmakers will be confronting in the next few weeks.

Regardless of how that revenue debate is resolved, Thursday’s discussions and the extensive staff analysis showed that there are a wide range of loaded issues that need to be addressed. How, for example, should lawmakers define basic pay for teachers, since salaries are the biggest piece of “basic education?” How should they best calculate regional cost-of-living differences? Account for local maintenance-and-operations levies? Address special ed programs? Phase in any tax reforms? And specific approaches notwithstanding, what about the educational and financial ripple effects? If a small town’s biggest business — say, a mill — were to shut down how would that change the property tax picture for a local school district?

A lot to deal with in a short time, but – as Stang writes – some of the issues may be rolled into future legislation.

“There’s just a lot of moving parts,” said Ross Hunter. But Hunter can see some daylight. He has a bill in play that would create a Washington Education Funding Council: eight legislators and one representative each from the offices of the governor, the state treasurer and the Superintendent of Public Instruction. That 11-person task force, working against a series of interim deadlines, would map out levy reforms and teachers salary measures through June 30, 2017.