Lawmakers to court: We did what you ordered on school reforms

By Jim Camden

The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA — In what may have been the last meeting of a special legislative committee, lawmakers approved a report telling the state Supreme Court they believe they have finally met the 2012 order to improve education.

“I don’t think it’s time for celebration,” House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, D-Covington, said after the committee’s 6-0 vote. “The work continues … just without the court looking over our shoulder.”

Sullivan is a member of the Joint Select Committee on Article IX Litigation, more commonly called the McCleary committee after the name of the lead plaintiffs in the landmark case resulting in the 2012 ruling that the state wasn’t meeting its constitutional duty on public education. Since that decision, the committee has filed a yearly report on what it has done — or in some cases, what it was unable to do — to meet that duty.

The report will be included with a legal brief from the state attorney general’s office that will argue the state has fully complied with the order. Attorneys for the families who filed the suit could object, and in the past the court has brought both sides into the Temple of Justice to hear arguments before issuing its ruling.

Last year, the Legislature passed a series of reforms to school salary schedules, the way the state pays for special education as well as bilingual, highly capable and career programs, and revised the property tax system. The court approved of the program changes, but not the decision to delay by one year the full salary increases for school employees.

This year, the Legislature came up with the money for the full raises, as well as a new formula for special education money, thanks largely to higher than expected tax revenues.

It also set aside $105 million in a special account to cover the penalty the court assessed in 2015 when the Legislature failed to comply with an order. That money will be spent on salaries and special education.

The report shows that Washington was spending $6.6 billion for K-12 education in fiscal year 2010 and will spend $10.3 billion this fiscal year. That amount is projected to grow to $13.7 billion in fiscal 2021.

“Hopefully, this will be the final (meeting),” said Sen. David Frockt, D-Seattle, the committee chairman.

Other states around the country that are struggling with school funding issues or teacher strikes may look to what Washington did if the court signs off, Frockt said after the meeting.

“If the court basically says we have met the test … this will be the most successful school funding case in the country,” he said.