With little debate, the Washington House Appropriations Committee voted 18-13 along party lines Saturday to recommend approval of a bill that would convert the Washington Supreme Court's McCleary requirements into a state law. Among other things, the measure would require that lawmakers fund the transition to smaller K-3 class sizes with three equal annual appropriations and that both teacher and non-teaching staffer salaries would be increased every two years. That bill now goes to the full House.
In a Saturday hearing, educators and others testified unanimously in support of the bill.
"This is a giant step forward," said Charlie Brown of the School Alliance.
The so-called McCleary ruling is a 2012 Supreme Court decision that declared Washington is not meeting its constitutional obligation to provide basic K-12 education. Using a 2009 state law as a template, the court ordered that teacher-student ratios in Grades K-3 be improved from one-to-25 now to one-to-17 by mid 2019 and that required credits for graduation and annual high school hours of instruction be increased slightly — all by the 2018-2019 school year. Other improvements were also included in the court order.
The price tag to implement these improvements will fall between $4 billion and $4.5 billion — a number that does not include the long-dormant cost-of-living raises for teachers that Democrats have been trying to revive this session. (Republicans remain opposed to cost-of-living raises.) Even without cost-of-living raises, lawmakers will still need to find $1.5 billion to $1.75 billion in the 2015-2017 and 2017-2019 budgets.
In January, the Supreme Court declared that the Legislature lags far behind on keeping up with its McCleary obligations, and ordered legislators to come up with a catch-up plan by April 30.
In response, House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, introduced the bill — the subject of Saturday's hearing — to convert the court order into law. "I believe we need to put this into a statute so we have a clear path forward," he said.
"This will make significant progress in meeting the state's obligations," said Julie Salvi of the Washington Education Assocation.
Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!