Supreme Court wants to hear more from the state about the McCleary funding requirement (updated)

The Seattle Times reports

The state Supreme Court has ordered the state to appear in court before the justices decide whether to lift or add to sanctions in the McCleary school-funding case.

In an order released Thursday morning, the justices also listed the questions they wants the state and the plaintiffs to answer in a hearing scheduled for Sept. 7.

Looks like someone’s going to be working through Labor Day weekend. The court lists eight questions. They expect “specific and detailed answers.” Here are the questions:

(a) whether the State views the 2018 deadline as referring to the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, to the end of the 2017-2018 fiscal year, to the end of 2018, or to some other date; 

(b) whether E2SSB 6195, when read together with ESHB 2261 and SHB 2776, satisfies this court’s January 9, 2014, order for a plan and, if not, what opportunities, if any, remain for the legislature to provide the plan required by that January 9, 2014, order;

(c) the estimated current cost of full state funding of the program of basic education identified by ESHB 2261 (RCW 28A.150.220) and the implementation program established by SHB 2776, including, but not limited to, the costs of materials, supplies, and operating costs; transportation; and reduced class sizes for kindergarten through third grade and all-day kindergarten, with the costs of reduced class sizes and all-day kindergarten to include the estimated capital costs necessary to fully implement those components and the necessary level of staffing;

(d) the estimated cost of full state funding of competitive market-rate basic education staff salaries, including the costs of recruiting and retaining competent staff and professional development of instructional staff;

(e) the components of basic education, if any, the State has fully funded in light of the costs specified above;

(f) the components of basic education, including basic education staff salaries, the State has not yet fully funded in light of the costs specified above, the cost of achieving full state funding of the components that have not been fully funded by the deadline, and how the State intends to meet its constitutional obligation to implement its plan of basic education through dependable and regular revenue sources by that deadline;

(g) whether this court should dismiss the contempt order or continue sanctions; and

(h) any additional information that will demonstrate to the court how the State will fully comply with article IX, section 1 by 2018.

 The state is to file its brief by August 22, the Plaintiffs’ brief (if any, and we’re pretty sure there will be) is expected by August 29, and the state’s reply by September 2. 

It’s reasonable to assume that the Court expects more than it received in May. So it appears the bar has been raised for the AG and Legislature. 

Oddly missing from the list of questions presented by the court is any mention of local levies. Boiled down, it looks like the big questions are really just two three:

1) How much is it going to cost to fund basic education? 

2) What’s it cost to provide “market-rate” staff salaries? 

3) How will the state pay for the increased cost?

It is, after all, about the money. The rest of the list – have you given us a plan, what have you funded, what’s left to fund, what calendar are you using, and should we continue to hold you in contempt – nibble around the edges of the core issues. 

Meanwhile, Superintendent of Public Instruction has decided to go to court. The Associated Press reports:

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn plans to sue a few school districts that use local levy dollars to pay for elements of basic education, such as teachers’ salaries.

Dorn says basic education is a state responsibility and he believes school districts don’t have the authority to use local levies to make up what the state chooses not fund. He wants the courts to weigh in.

In the Everett Herald, Jerry Cornfield writes

He wouldn’t say which districts will be named as defendants. It’s likely at least one will be from Snohomish County, where the most experienced teachers can earn the highest base pay in the state — thanks in large part to the use of levy dollars.

Everett School District, for example, offers a top base salary of $97,445 that will rise to $103,000 for the 2017-18 school year under a contract approved last fall... Meanwhile the top salary level for equivalent experience in dozens of other school districts hovers around $67,000 annually, according to a tally compiled by the Washington Education Association.

These are among the issues the Education Funding Task Force is grappling with now. Yesterday’s meeting is available on TVW here

Challenging times.