FROM OLYMPIA: Governor signs basic education funding plan; study to meet 2017 Supreme Court mandate

By Izumi Hansen WNPA Olympia News Bureau
Posted 3/2/16

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday, Feb. 29 signed a bill responding to the state Supreme Court’s 2012 decision that the state is unconstitutionally underfunding basic education.

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FROM OLYMPIA: Governor signs basic education funding plan; study to meet 2017 Supreme Court mandate

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OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee on Monday, Feb. 29 signed a bill responding to the state Supreme Court’s 2012 decision that the state is unconstitutionally underfunding basic education.

“This ... recommits the Legislature in 2017 ... to fulfill the state’s constitutional obligation to fully fund education,” Inslee said before he signed the bill into law.

The bill, SB 6195, establishes a task force to create recommendations about teacher compensation and retention, local school levies’ limits and conditions, and sources of state funding. The bill also requires legislative action to remove local reliance on school levies, and provides funds for a consultant to analyze current teacher salaries.

In the 2012 McCleary decision, the state Supreme Court found that local districts rely on voter-approved levies to pay for teacher salaries. The court said this was unconstitutional since the tax levies are not a “dependable and regular” funding source.

The court is holding the state in contempt, levying a $100,000 per day fine since Aug. 13, 2015, for failing to produce plans to complete this final component of basic education during the 2015 legislative session. It is uncertain how the court will view this current legislative effort to meet its mandate.

Inslee said SB 6195 expresses the Legislature’s recognition that the state needs to fully fund education and the commitment to do so in the 2017 legislative session. He voiced “hope” that the court will be satisfied with this bill.

“The next step before us is arguably the most complex, and I’m confident the Legislature is up to the task,” said Inslee. “This bill keeps moving legislators forward and provides information needed to help complete the task.”

The bill met with resistance from some Republican senators during committee hearings, resulting in two amendments. Those changes were removed when the bill went to the Senate floor, where it passed with language matching the companion House bill, HB 2366. The vote was split within each party.

The House passed SB 6195 two days after receiving it from the Senate, making it the first bill passed by the Legislature this session.

“Next year's budget negotiations will be challenging,” Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, said in a news release after the bill signing. “We have already put in place a 36 percent increase to education funding in the last two budget cycles. This will give us the tools we need to capably make the necessary reforms to amply fund basic education going forward.”

Magendanz was part of the work group that created the bill prior to its introduction this session.

In the 2015 session, the Legislature funded K-3 class size reduction, full day kindergarten, school supplies, operating and transportation items, all part of the Supreme Court’s requirement.

(This story is part of a series of news reports from the Washington State Legislature provided through a reporting internship sponsored by the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association Foundation. Contact Reporter Izumi Hansen: hansenizumi@gmail.com)

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