Washington Education Funding Returns to Court in September

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

The state of Washington has been ordered to return to court on September 7th by the state Supreme Court in order to outline the progress it has made and give further explanation as to how much it believes it will cost to complete its constitutional requirement to fund basic education adequately.

The justices have a number of questions for the state to answer on its day in court, including how much money the state believes it will take to fully fund a basic education for all students, the estimated cost associated with ensuring that all school employees have market-rate salaries, and whether the 2018 deadline for compliance will mean the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, the end of 2018, or another date in that time frame.

Lawmakers have been having a particularly hard time determining the market-rate salaries issue, as school districts use local property tax levies to supplement what is provided by the state for salaries.  However, a 2012 ruling by the Supreme Court determined that the state must pay for these salaries as part of a basic education.

According to the four-page order, the court states that the 2017 legislative session “presents the last opportunity for complying with the State’s paramount duty.”

In its original ruling in 2012, the state Supreme Court states that lawmakers had not been meeting their constitutional requirement to fully pay for basic education.  Legislators were given until 2018 to fix the issue, and in 2014 found the state in contempt. As a penalty, the state was ordered to pay $100,000 per day in sanctions last August, with that money to be used for education spending.  Although the money was supposed to be placed in a dedicated education account, the money had not been allocated by lawmakers when writing a supplemental budget earlier in the year, writes Rachel La Corte for The Washington Times.

Senate Bill 6195 was passed earlier in the year by state lawmakers, which set up a task force ordered to collect data and determine solutions to the teacher pay and levy issues. During its regular court update, the state said that the bill, along with previous work on education funding, should be counted toward the funding plan that had been requested by the justices.

The Office of Financial Management stated that there is currently enough money in reserves to cover the sanctions, which total more than $33 million at the moment.

“What remains to be done to achieve compliance is undeniably huge, but it is not undefinable,” wrote the justices in the unanimous order. “At this juncture … the State can certainly set out for the court and the people of Washington the detailed steps it must take to accomplish its goals by the end of the next legislative session.”

Since the 2012 ruling, more than $2 billion has been spent by lawmakers in an effort to fix the issues brought out in the lawsuit.  State officials believe an additional $3 billion will be needed for the court mandate, writes Joseph O’Sullivan for The Seattle Times.

Estimates suggest that the total cost of fixing the salary and levy issues will come close to $3.5 billion every two years.