The Washington State Supreme Court has turned up the heat on legislators to provide local school districts the billions of dollars of additional K-12 funding that the State’s own studies have confirmed are needed to cure decades of unconstitutional underfunding – including fully funding salary increases, materials and operations, transportation and both the staffing and construction costs for full-day kindergarten and K-3 class size reductions.
“It is incumbent upon the State to demonstrate, through immediate, concrete action, that it is making real and measurable progress, not just promises,” the Order stated. The Court ordered the State to submit a detailed plan no later than April 30 that includes a year by year phase-in schedule for fully funding every element of basic education as defined in the McCleary ruling.
The Network for Excellence in Washington Schools – the 428-member coalition of school districts and education organizations that filed the McCleary suit – lauded the Order for continuing to hold lawmakers accountable for their constitutional “paramount duty” to fully and amply fund the K-12 education of all Washington school children.
Among the key directives and observations from the Court, including direct quotes from the Order:
- The State “cannot realistically claim to have made significant progress” toward fulfilling the McCleary mandate because funds allocated to K-12 basic education for the 2013-15 biennium are at best “only a modest 6.7 percent above current funding levels that violate the constitution.”
- Transportation remains dramatically underfunded, and the Court chastised the Legislature for claiming “full funding” by revising transportation cost estimates “based on a formula that its own analysis shows falls short.”
- Lack of progress toward fully funding essential materials, supplies and operation costs (MSOCs) is “even more troubling.” The State’s own studies identify MSOCs as the area requiring the greatest increase in State funding, yet 2013-2015 appropriations fell hundreds of millions of dollars short of being on track to close the gap by the 2017-18 school year.
- The 2013 Legislature provided some new funding for full-day kindergarten and early elementary class-size reductions but failed to recognize that “school districts are strapped for the physical space” to accommodate those changes. “The State must account for the actual cost to schools of providing these components of basic education” including “the additional capital investment needed” to implement full-day kindergarten and class size reductions.
- “State funding of educator and administrator salaries remains constitutionally inadequate.” The Court admonished the Legislature for calling the suspension of cost-of-living increases imposed by Initiative 732 “savings and reductions in non-basic education,” pointing out that “nothing could be more basic than adequate pay.” The Court called the State’s lack of progress on staff salaries “deeply troubling.” “The inescapable fact is that salaries for educators in Washington are no better now than when this case went to trial. “
- This year’s supplemental budget session is “an opportunity to take a significant step forward.” “The need for immediate action could not be more apparent. Conversely, failing to act would send a strong message about the State’s good faith commitment toward fulfilling its constitutional promise.”
- Finally, the Court reminded the State that it wields the power of judicial enforcement to compel the State to abide by its ruling in McCleary, adding “it is clear that the pace of progress must quicken.”