A bipartisan legislative committee decided to forgo asking the Washington Supreme Court for clarification on how to meet the state's constitutional duties to provide basic education for students by 2018.
The special committee unanimously voted Tuesday to approve a report to the Supreme Court on what the Legislature did in the 2013 session to make progress toward what the court ordered in 2012.
Republicans and Democrats always agreed on the basic facts and figures. But their work on the report stalled last week as they argued over how to put those figures into context to the Supreme Court. Also last week, the committee's four Democrats proposed asking the Supreme Court to clarify what the overall fix-it plan should generally look like and to define what "progress" means as the Legislature tackles interim steps on a long-term fix. The Democrats also wanted to ask for guidance on how teachers' salaries fit in the constitutional picture.
The questions were ultimately left out of the report.
"The clarification questions, we felt, were not necessary. ... We're showing positive movement to the overall target," said Rep.Gary Alexander, R-Olympia. Clarification questions and answers would move the court too far into the policy-making realm of the Legislature, he said.
Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, said he expects the plaintiffs in the so-called McCleary case to criticize the report, which is supposed to reach the Supreme Court no later than Thursday. The plaintiffs are two sets of public-school parents, Mathew and Stephanie McCleary and Robert and Patty Venema, their children and the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools, which is a statewide coalition of community groups, public school districts and education organizations.
In its recently completed 2013 session, the Legislature appropriated an extra $982 million for 2013-2015 to begin complying with a court ruling that the state has failed to meet its constitutional duties in providing basic education to its school kids. The ruling focused mostly on teacher-to-student ratios in grades K-3, raising the number of credits to graduate high school, increasing the number of high school hours per student annually and providing sufficient support for those efforts.
Initial estimates are that the school improvements will take an extra $4 billion to $4.5 billion through the 2017-2019. That means future legislatures must provide considerably more than $982 million in each of the next two budget biennia.
The ruling also called for a ratio of a student-teacher ratio of 17-to-1 in kindergarten through third grade by 2017-2018. The current ratio is one to 24-to-1. The first year of the 2013-15 budget will reduce that ratio to 20.85-to-1 for kindergarten and first grade in the most impoverished schools, and 20-to-1 in those two grades for the same schools in the second year. The 2013-2015 budget does not address reducing ratios in the second and third grades.
The report mentions that the Legislature restored a previous 1.9 percent salary reduction for teachers and a previous 3 percent salary reduction for administrators. it also mentions that a teachers cost-of-living raise — called for by voters in a referendum several years ago — were suspended for the third straight budget biennia to make the dollar figures balance.
The Democrats' draft also asked the Supreme Court to clarify what the overall fix-it plan should generally look like and to define what "progress" means as the Legislature tackles interim steps on a long-term fix. The Democrats also want to ask for guidance on how teachers' salaries fit in the constitutional picture.
The Legislature appropriated $15.2 billion overall to K-to-12 education for 2013-2015, which is slightly more than 45 percent of the state's $33.6 billion operating budget for this biennium. Education's percentage in the 2011-2013 budget, adopted before the court's ruling, was 43.8 percent of a slightly more than $31 billion operating budget.
For exclusive coverage of the state government, check out Crosscut's Olympia 2013 page.