The plaintiff’s group in the landmark McCleary school-funding case made clear to the Washington Supreme Court on Monday that it is not impressed by the Legislature’s action so far. In a legal brief filed with the court, the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools, urged the justices to consider “a clear, firm, unequivocal warning” to lawmakers they face contempt if they don’t do better.
The divided Legislature did pony up $982 million in new funding for basic education in 2013-15. In a late-August report to the court the Legislature’s task force on K-12 funding, Democratic Sen. David Frockt of Seattle and Republican Rep. Gary Alexander of Thurston County said the new funding represented a 6.7 percent increase over the carry-forward value of spending in the previous biennium and an overall 11.4 percent actual dollar increase.
But NEWS said that falls quite short and represents such a slow pace of school funding improvement that it could take until 2020 before the Legislature meets its duty. In a news release, the group said:
“The State reports its per pupil funding under the 2013-15 budget will be $7,279 in 2013-14 and $7,646 in 2014-15,” the NEWS brief stated. “At that under $400/year rate of increase… the per pupil finish line will not be crossed until the 2028-29 school year, if there is no inflation or capital needs.”
Contrary to the State’s contention that its appropriation of $982 million in new funds for K-12 education in the 2013-15 budget represents progress, NEWS pointed out that “State budget documents acknowledge that after accounting for that budget’s corresponding ‘savings’ – non-euphemistically known as cuts – the net biennium increase was only $649 million (under $325 million each year).”
The cut referred to in that statement dealt with a suspension of pay raises for K-12 employees that had been guaranteed by voter passage of Initiative 732 in 2000. Lawmakers suspended that cost-of-living pay provision for the third biennia in a row, grabbing the money to put it toward other targeted uses in the K-12 system.
The Supreme Court issued its unanimous ruling in January 2012 that the state was failing to meet its constitutional duty to fully fund basic education. The court retained jurisdiction of the case to ensure compliance and set out a timeline for the state to reach full funding by 2018.Stay tuned.