38 years on, Olympia dealing with same K-12 funding problems

After the state Supreme Court’s recent attention-grabbing ruling in the McCleary education funding case, legislators are talking among themselves about how to respond. Gov. Inslee has not called them back into special session, and that’s just fine. The $100,000-a-day fines are close to symbolic (that money will go to K-12 funding regardless), and there’s little use in reconvening the Legislature before leaders have a good sense of what comes next.

I’m still surprised and disappointed that justices said they have “no opinion” on whether, in the short term, legislators must enact some kind of reform of our school levies system. It’s a key part of the original McCleary ruling in 2012 (as an interesting aside, four of the current nine justices on the court were not part of that 2012 ruling), so it struck many observers as odd that the court chose to say that.

As the News Tribune editorial board said, if justices couldn’t stand behind each component of the original ruling, “they might have at least said nothing” regarding levy reform in their contempt ruling.

Thankfully, many legislators recognize they still need to work on the issue. We know that some school districts are spending levy dollars for items that are part of “basic education” and should be paid for by the state. We also know that the disparity between some property-rich school districts and other districts is unconstitutional and a disadvantage to some students. Something has to change.

Four decades on, problems are the same
The two problems outlined above can be remedied with a levy swap, an idea we’ve discussed on SGW many times before. Enacting a levy swap would require the state to also adjust the state salary schedule for teachers to better account for cost-of-living differences in various parts of the state. These are tough, but necessary, conversations to have.

What legislators should strive for is a more permanent solution to these issues. As the article below makes clear, the remedies legislators are discussing today are the same ones legislators were dealing with in the late ‘70s, before and after McCleary’s forerunner, the Doran decision.

If legislators today do their jobs, their successors 40 years from now won’t be grappling with the same issues of fair and equitable school funding all over again.
-Rob McKenna

Demos unveil school finance plan
By Robert Harper
The Spokesman-Review – April 1, 1977


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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.