Legislature sets a baseline for 'adequate education'

After the Supreme Court's slap-on-the-wrist last year, a legislative committee will submit the first report of the state's current education situation Monday.
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A teacher with her students

After the Supreme Court's slap-on-the-wrist last year, a legislative committee will submit the first report of the state's current education situation Monday.

The first step in Washington's Supreme Court monitoring improvements in the state's schools will take place Monday.

That's when a new legislative committee will submit its first report to the Supreme Court — a report that essentially describes the state's current education situation. It will be used as a partial baseline by which future annual reports will be compared to through 2018. 

The new eight-person bipartisan Senate and House committee met for the first time Wednesday on Mercer Island to review a draft report prepared by its staff. The committee — co-chaired by Sen. David Frockt and Rep. Gary Alexander, R-Olympia — ordered minor tweaks in the document. The group will meet again after the upcoming 2013 legislative session to prepare the first annual update.

"This work is going to continue for the next six years in significant ways," said committee member Rep. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle. 

The committee was formed in response to a January supreme court ruling — dubbed the "McCleary" decision — that the state is not meeting its constitutional duties in funding basic education. 

Assistant Attorney General Dave Stolier told the committee that the Supreme Court ruling does not require the state to guarantee education outcomes, but it must provide sufficient basic education opportunities for students. Also, the state cannot remove any basic education programs without sound policy reasons, he said. 

Laws enacted in 2011 said the basic education requirements include increasing all of the state's half-day kindergarten program to full-day classes, and that the 1,000 instructional hours per year in Grades 7-12 are to be increased to 1,080 hours. Legislation from 2010 called for one teacher per 25.23 students in Grades K-3, and similar goals of 27 students per teacher in Grades 4-6 and a target of 28.74 in Grades 7-12. 

The draft report said K-12 education accounts for 43.8 percent of the state's roughly $31 billion 2011-2013 operating budget. Preliminary estimates indicate that the state needs to allocate an extra $1 billion to education.

Gubernatorial candidates Republican Rob McKenna and Democrat Jay Inslee say an improving economy and installing some bureaucratic efficiencies can raise the extra $1 billion without raising taxes or seriously cutting other major programs. Gov. Chris Gregoire and the state budget office say both candidates are wrong on that claim.

McKenna's plan calls for education's percentage of the state's budget to reach almost 50 percent by 2019-2021. Inslee does not have a targeted percentage. There are almost 1 million Washington students in Grades K-12.

At this point, the legislature's 2011-2013 budget makes only minimal progress toward the supreme court's ruling, Stolier said. The deadline to meet the court's mandate is 2018. "The court must make sure that the legislature follows through," Stolier said. 


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About the Authors & Contributors

John Stang

John Stang

John Stang is a freelance writer who often covers state government and the environment. He can be reached on email at johnstang_8@hotmail.com and on Twitter at @johnstang_8